Just a few weeks ago, I attended the Plano Balloon Festival. It was a beautiful afternoon and the place was packed with families and groups of friends both browsing the stalls of merchandise and fair food and camped out on the grassy areas ready to watch a dozen or so hot air balloons launch into blue sky. Unfortunately for the throngs gathered, there was too much wind for the balloons to take off, but we were still promised a balloon “glow,” where all the gathered balloons would light up while tethered to the ground. It was a beautiful sight to see all of these giant balloons filling up with light from their burners. But the glow from the balloons was not the only show we got to see that night – just as the balloons filled with hot air and warm light, the sky behind us lit up with streaks of bright lightning as dark clouds gathered.
Sensing that the storm was getting closer, we gathered our things and headed toward the exit and the buses that would take us back to our car, hoping to beat some of the crowd out. Of course, we weren’t the only ones with the idea and the line for the buses had already begun to grow. Behind us more people crowded in, and with an increase in lightning in the distance accompanied now by thunder the tension in the crowd also increased. Families and groups of friends were all anxious to avoid what seemed to be a really good chance of getting drenched in rain.
As nervous people crowded closer together I heard sounds of anger and frustration close behind us – one person loudly complaining of another encroaching on their space. As I glanced behind at the commotion my heart sank when I saw that the confrontation was taking place between people of two different ethnicities. Right or wrong, I assumed that part of the tension in this case was due to that difference, and I wanted to jump in to defend the one being threatened. I wanted to point out that we were all crowded together, that we were all anxious to avoid getting caught in the storm. I wanted to offer words of peace. But I didn’t say a word. Whether out of fear of being verbally attacked as well, or out of belief that my words would fall on deaf ears, I remained silent.
The situation did not escalate, we all eventually made it on the buses, and the storm actually ended up skirting by us, but I still wondered if I could have made a difference. Would speaking words of peace have been a better reflection of my Christian faith? I can’t know what would have happened that night if I had acted differently, but it does compel me to think how I might speak and act differently in the future, and to continue to wrestle with that question of how I can most faithfully live out Jesus’ command to love my neighbor.