My wife and I just returned from a honeymoon trip to the Grand Canyon – a spot both of us had long wanted to visit.
I had expected to return with the photos and indelible memories of the Canyon, Painted Desert, Petrified Forest, and all of nature's grandeur. But I didn't expect to return with an even more precious souvenir: A renewed faith in human decency, sparked mainly by a phalanx of foreign tourists.
With more than 5 million annual visitors, Grand Canyon Park has more tourists than rocks. I met sojourners from China, Finland, France, Korea, the Netherlands, Germany, Ukraine, and many other countries.
Amid a cacophony of languages and appearances, they shared one attribute: kindness.
“Would you like me to take a photo of all of you together?” was the standard opener, as dozens lined up to get shots of a particularly beautiful vista or famous overlook.
People in line didn't grumble about the wait. Instead, they took in the scenery or actually conversed with one another, sometimes in broken English or hand-gestures.
Strangers readily offered water to those without. Compliments on the good-behavior or beauty of children, holding tight to their parents' hands, were freely given in a host of languages.
Smiles were everywhere. Courtesy, the universal language.
A group of students from South Korea, after seeing my U.S. Marine Corps tattoo, took time to introduce themselves and, one by one, thank me for my service. They understood the ideal of sacrifice and service and felt the need to recognize it.
It was almost as if everyone were running for political office – except their kindness and concern were authentic.
Leaving the park, however, immediately transported me to another place.
Stressed out motorists, cursing as they cut each other off in traffic; diners at an overpriced fast-food restaurant rolling their eyes at a crying toddler who just spilled her milkshake; customer service people who cared nothing about customers and knew nothing about service; hard stares from people who may not like the color of your shirt, or your assumed political affiliations.
When I returned to the hotel, I logged onto social media. Big mistake. I was instantly assaulted by a rash of insults, rants, and hateful rhetoric aimed at friends, neighbors, or strangers who dared to express a different opinion.
Back at the Grand Canyon, I saw an Italian tourist moved to tears by the natural beauty of our country, as the Asian man who volunteered to take her picture consoled her.
I love this country, including its natural wonders such as the Grand Canyon. I do not, however, love the blatant disregard for politeness and empathy I witness daily, in person and online, by my fellow Americans.
That coarseness is quickly becoming the defining trait of our national character and political culture.
Back from the Grand Canyon, I have vowed to resist it.
Either that, or buy a tent in the Grand Canyon, where decency and courtesy rule the day, regardless of language.