Space Invader By Kevin Hofmann Director, Office of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion 13C, 14C 15C, 16C, 17C. 17C was the seat on my ticket. I had requested the aisle seat because I don’t like climbing over people to use the bathroom. I was the first to arrive in my row. 17A was the window seat. 17B the middle seat is reserved for the poor soul who doesn’t like comfort. It seems like you pay to sit at the window. I like the freedom and space of the aisle seat but the payment for the less restrictive seat is that you may have to sacrifice a shoulder, or knee, or foot. The aisle seat is where you are constantly assaulted by passengers walking down the aisle. You must be on the look out for free swinging arms, hips, elbows, or a bag thrown over the shoulder. The most dangerous is a bag carried by a passenger who is paying more attention to seat numbers than the devastation they are causing by clobbering every aisle passenger as they descend the aisle. In between the violence of passengers boarding, I watch each person walking towards me as I silently pray asking God to show mercy and not put anyone next to me. The young woman with the three-year-old is approaching and my prayer becomes more fervent. They pass me by. “Thank you, Jesus,” I whisper. People come and go, and I continue to thank the Lord. Then a young man with brown skin, a long beard, wearing a Kufi on his head approaches me. He smiles at me with his eyes and the tops of his cheeks. His mouth is covered by a black N-95 mask. He quietly asks, “Is this 17B?” He had purchased the dreaded middle seat. The tight space makes breathing a conscious act. My seat mate secures his carry-on above me, and I point my knees towards the aisle so he can sneak by me to get to his middle seat. The only talking we do is with the tops of our cheeks and eyes. He settles in and I go about making myself appear busy, so my new friend doesn’t try to talk to me. I direct my eyes and attention to my phone as he situates himself in his seat and fastens his seat belt. We take off and about half an hour into our flight the arm rest between us is still empty. Instead of assuming we have a right to the arm rest we resolve to no one using it. An hour into the flight I shift my weight in the seat and we bump elbows as they pass over the empty arm rest. We both politely apologize, and my friend speaks up. “Please take the arm rest, my friend.” His tone is welcoming, and his eyes are soft and sincere. I thank him and my comfort level immediately gets upgraded to what feels like first class. I place my arm on the arm rest and expand my chest taking in a larger volume of oxygen. This simple gesture gives me permission to relax. The invitation into my new friend’s space makes me feel welcome. The invitation tells me this is a safe place. Feeling safe, I turn to him and ask if he is a Detroit Lions fan. It is a safe question because his carry-on luggage had the familiar Lion’s logo on it. We were flying out of Detroit too. “Yes, yes I am. You?” He asks politely. “Yep, they have disappointed me my whole life, but I can’t let them go.” I say with a smile. We bond over the pain of team. The conversation is easy for the rest of the trip. We talk about the Detroit Pistons and Tigers, our favorite Detroit athletes, American or Lafayette coney dogs, and we talk about how the city has changed. We also talk about Jesus. He shares with me that he and many of his Muslim friends admire Jesus. He speaks very knowledgeably about Jesus and with much respect. I ask him questions about Islam and the Quran and he asks me questions about the Bible. We understand our beliefs are different but the conversation about our beliefs is respectful and curious. He teaches me more than I teach him. His understanding of Christianity is impressive. I learn he is married with two children and lives in Dearborn. We bond over both living in Dearborn at one time in our lives. The flight ends quicker than it began. As we collect our things and prepare to exit the plane, we say our goodbyes. We shake hand and he pulls me and gives me a welcomed hug. We break COVID protocol, but between Allah and Jesus I think we are covered. We walk down the exit ramp together and when we enter the airport, he goes left to catch a connecting flight and I go right to claim my bags. I take a few steps and turn around. “Hey Karem! Thanks for sharing the arm rest.” “My pleasure, my friend. May God bless you and your family,” Karem says. “You too,” I yell back. I was so glad to have met Karem and I know I will probably never see him again, but I will remember him. I will remember the man who was courageous enough to invite me into his space. Invite someone into your space this week. Welcome into your space someone who thinks or believes different than you. What you will get out of it is more valuable than an empty armrest on a crowded plane.