“Is this the line for TSA-pre?” I asked the woman at the end of the line. I wasn’t really awake yet. I had limited myself to one cup of coffee, planning to sleep on my cross country flight. It took a minute for the woman’s face to register. “Are you who I think you are?” I said to the woman in front of me.
“That depends who you think I am,” she said with a slight smile.
“You’re Madeleine Albright.”
“Thank you for your work,” I said. “We need you.” My face wore all the sadness of last week in Charlottesville.
“Yes, these are bad times. It’s like the thirties.”
I didn’t tell her that my mother was a teenager in Frankfurt in 1933, the year Hitler came to power. The Nazis introduced their laws slowly at first, so that most Germans did not realize the extent of the Nazi party’s anti-Semitism. Their first decrees eliminated police and court protection for German Jews. That meant you could spit, punch, kick a Jew in the streets, and nothing would happen. By 1934, Jews were excluded from military service. Does this smell at all like the wind as it blows today? Take out “Jew” and add African American, Native American, Muslim, LGBTQ, undocumented immigrant. I could go on.
Albright and I stood to the side of the conveyor belt as our carry-ons were scanned.
“I feel like all the good people are preaching to the choir. We’re talking to each other,” I said.
I don’t want to quote Albright, because I didn’t take notes or record our conversation. Here’s the gist of her wisdom.
MA: We need to talk to people who don’t think like we do.
Me: That’s hard.
MA: But we must.
Me: In Germany, they have a law to teach children tolerance.
MA: And we’re afraid to talk about it.
She looked at me with the intensity you would expect from Madeleine Albright. She might as well have said, “Don’t be a wuss. Speak out. Take action.”
I lifted my bag off the belt and ran to my gate. Once in my seat, I looked out the window and wondered what it is I am afraid of. And what am I doing about our current nightmare?
Madeleine Albright’s tweet from Aug. 13: There are not many sides. We must always fight facism and racism, oppose evil, and defend liberty and justice for all. #Charlottesville