Trying to understand

An encounter, a theory, and a look to the stars. Also, 7 other (but highly related) things worth your time.

Technical problem this morning — my fault. Sorry for the delay.


So much has happened since last week, and I like to stay positive if I can. So, let’s ease into this, starting with the story of JacqueRae S. Hill, a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines.

Hill is a black woman, and she writes that the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis has left her with a very heavy heart.

On the way to her flight Saturday, she prayed for strength, and maybe a sign. She said it came in the form of a passenger—a white man traveling alone, reading a bestselling book from 2018: White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism.

She summoned her courage and asked him about it.

“I’m halfway through. It’s really good,” the man said. “It really points out how important these conversations on race are.”

That’s all it took, Hill later explained, for her tears to start flowing:

“I have been so sad every day and I just want to understand and be understood so we can began to fix it. I’m pretty sure I startled him.”

They talked more. Hill said their encounter felt like an answer to her prayer. Eventually, he told her his name: Doug Parker, the CEO of American Airlines.

(He was apparently deadheading on Southwest.)

Hill later shared the experience on Facebook, along with a handwritten note Parker gave her, in which he wrote that their conversation was “a gift from God and an inspiration.”

By Sunday, the post had been shared thousands of times. Hill and Parker continued their discussion over email, and Hill’s mother—who happens to work for American Airlines—also emailed him.

“Thank you for thanking me,” Parker replied. “But trust me, I was the one who was blessed by that conversation.”

Protests versus riots

I started with Hill’s story today because it’s about people trying to understand each other.

I can’t put into words how sickening the death of George Floyd was. Some of the protests since then have been heartening. Some of the violence has been heartbreaking.

Much like Doug Parker, there’s a lot I want to understand better.

I live near New York City, but the closest city is technically Newark, so this weekend I kept an eye on the protests there.

There were thousands of demonstrators, and things were reportedly boisterous. But damage was pretty limited. (“A flag burning, the spray painting of a statue of George Washington, and the slashing of tires on a Newark police vehicle,” according to our local news.)

Other protests in New Jersey had similar stories, too: Trenton, Atlantic City. In Camden, the police chief joined in the march with protestors. (Actually, that happened in a few other places around the country, too. Flint, Michigan, for one; lots of “cops taking a knee” with protestors too.)

Maybe we’re small enough here that the people who seem to be highjacking peaceful protests elsewhere haven’t bothered showing up. Maybe it’s also that New Jersey has apparently done a better job than other places of teaching cops to deescalate tense situations.

But, maybe the simplest answer is that protestors, rioters and looters are completely different kinds of people. We’re fortunate so far here to have only one of the three.

Space X

A friend of mine joked — I think it was a joke — that NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are the luckiest Americans, since they literally got to leave the planet.

But I hope we’ll remember their journey Saturday as a silver lining to the end of May 2020.

The two astronauts took off in a U.S. spacecraft from U.S. soil for the first time in nine years. They made it safely to the International Space Station, where they joined fellow astronaut Chris Cassidy, along with cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner.

Any other week, this would have been the lead story. At least, let’s mark the milestone.

7 other things worth your time

  • Coronavirus suddenly seems like seven crises ago. Unfortunately, public health officials are warning that all these big demonstrations could be followed by an increase in cases. (The Washington Post)

  • Protests spread worldwide: in London, Berlin, Toronto, Aukland, and elsewhere. (AP, The Hill, Barrons)

  • Back in the U.S., elements of the 82nd Airborne Division were reportedly placed on alert to potentially deploy to Minnesota. (KSTP News)

  • Looters took to NYC neighborhoods like SoHo, breaking into a Rolex watch dealer, Louis Vuitton, etc. (New York Daily News)

  • Journalists covering protests have been beaten, arrested, gassed, and shot with nonlethal projectiles by police in several cities this weekend, including some who were on air or broadcasting via social media at the time. (Honestly, I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence.) (France24)

  • Seven states hold elections tomorrow. While the presidential primaries are essentially moot, there are local races on the ballot, and this will be the first test for many of them of widespread voting by mail, post-coronavirus. (Wall Street Journal, $)

  • Traveling? Here’s a handy website with (mostly) updated information on how long people are being asked to quarantine in about 20 states and countries around the world. (Your Mileage May Vary)

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