D id you hear about the security scare last Thursday evening at New York’s JFK Airport? For a while there, it was no simple matter, a real touch-and-go situation. I know, because I was there as the threat played out. Actually, the threat was me.

As we prepared to go through the electronic scanners on the way to our flight to Portland, Oregon, my wife joked that it was likely I’d be pulled aside for a pat-down, a somewhat regular occurrence with me. It can’t be the swarthy complexion or accented English, since I possess neither, so apparently it’s just a case of GTP, generic terrorist’s profile.

Last week, however, at the Delta departures terminal, I moved from having a bit part in the larger intrigues of Middle Eastern geopolitics as a slightly but not-yet-ready-for-no-fly-status sort to being a major target of law enforcement scrutiny. Never mind that I wasn’t remotely headed East — Middle or otherwise — but West, to a city that’s not, last I checked, a hotbed of Islamist extremism.

It all began when, amid the fuss of removing my belt and hat and jacket and wallet and cell phone and all other items from all pockets and untying my right shoe, then untying and removing my left shoe and then removing my right shoe, I forgot to remove the laptop computer from my carry-on and place it in a bin for scanning. I went through the body scanner uneventfully enough, collected my belongings, and was already re-attired and shod.

But my computer had prompted a beeping alarm on the TSA scanner, and with that began an ordeal that was to last for the next half hour. After a pat-down, I too was apparently now beeping, or ringing. Or maybe buzzing.

I was invited by several nice gentlemen from the TSA to stand off to the side in a cordoned-off area, where I was searched more intensively; then my carry-on luggage was unceremoniously sorted through, items examined, gifts unwrapped. My tallis and tefillin were carted off for a re-examination of their own.

As I stood, feet apart, arms outstretched and palms turned upwards, I was by now a scene to behold for fellow passengers hurrying to their flights, undoubtedly muttering under their collective breath, “There but for the grace of G-d go I.” I’m always conscious of my distinct appearance as a religious Jew, and a more private sort of person too, so it was highly discomfiting for me to now be at the center of such a spectacle, with nothing I could do about it.

Alas, my beeping-ness persisted. I was escorted to a private room where two TSA personnel administered yet a third body search, hoping to finally remove all doubt as to whether I was concealing beneath my clothes either automatic weapons or chemical explosives, but to no avail.

As all this unfolded (an apt word for the contents of my suitcase at this point), our boarding time came and went, and our flight’s departure time inched ever closer with no seeming way to resolve this impasse before then. With the beeping continuing unabated and no resolution in sight, a TSA higher-up was summoned to make a final determination on whether releasing Kobre from their custody was a risk the Free World could reasonably take.

And yet, throughout it all, I remained unfazed, both externally and within. It wasn’t even a matter of telling myself, “It’s bashert.” It was more basic than that, simply a conscious decision to live in reality, to see the predicament into which I’d been suddenly thrust for what it was: Hashem was right here with me, and events would play out precisely as He determined and at His pace — so why not sit back and enjoy the show?

Put differently, it wasn’t an adopted frumkeit, it was an actualized truth. Circumstances had compelled me to attain the clarity of knowledge I ought always to have that Hashem is on the scene and in control, now and always, whether I’m beeping or blissfully silent. And with that presence of mind in place, I was able to banter in good humor with the TSA agents, even eliciting a knowing nod from one of them, a middle-aged black fellow, upon mentioning G-d’s presence with us there.

There were, of course, other factors that made all this easier to do than it might otherwise have been. There was the fact that just a day earlier, I’d attended the funerals of two good friends, which tends to dissipate the supposed urgency of most all else going on in one’s life.

There was also my wife’s presence, which gave me the opportunity to demonstrate the gevurah of equanimity under stressful conditions. I haven’t always done as well as I did now; I’m thinking of one particular occasion when, while traveling alone, an extended TSA pat-down had caused me to miss a flight, and suffice it to say I failed that particular nisayon with flying colors.

But now, when my wife objected to the TSA people that I was being demeaned, I interjected matter-of-factly, “I don’t feel demeaned,” and meant it. Although I didn’t say so, I was actually enjoying the self-mastery of allowing events to just wash over me, unaffected.

Switching into this mindset didn’t happen automatically. At the very outset, a sense of annoyance began to rise within me, grounded in a vague feeling of the injustice of the situation, and coupled with an even vaguer suspicion that as a visible Jew, I was being singled out for a hard time. “These people know I’m not a terrorist; I’m the guy the terrorists would most love to kill. Why, then, am I, of all people, being detained and harassed like this?”

I suspect it’s a sentiment I’m not alone in feeling, whether at the TSA scanners, after a traffic stop, a building code inspection, or on various other occasions.

There probably are isolated instances in which it’s accurate, but for the most part, it’s nonsense. There is a reality of prosecutorial misconduct, and even draconian 27-year sentences. But most public servants are trying to do their jobs properly, and we’d do better to consider whether we, not they, are the proximate cause of our troubles when we try to finesse the rules or simply forget them. In this case, too, it was I who had triggered the sequence of events by not removing my computer for scanning and showing up for my flight later than recommended.

And most important of all, such thinking removes Hashem from the picture, mistaking His shluchim for independent actors and focusing the spotlight on them and their failings instead of turning it back where it belongs: on us and the lessons the situation holds for us.

And so, I gave myself a stern internal talking-to and got a grip. And once I rejected the internal narrative of victimization and the conspiracy-theorizing that stems from it, an amazing thing happened. Not only was I able to once again live in the reality of Hashem’s presence, but I found myself able to empathize with the TSA agents.

I was able to put myself in their place and see that if they’re decent people, it must not be easy for them to have to subject someone to their procedures. But the fact was, my computer was beeping, and they had a job to do. I told them several times, “It must not be easy to have to put people through this. But I understand you’re just doing your job,” and I sensed that they appreciated my words.

I wasn’t released any earlier as a result — Hashem decided when that would be — but that wasn’t the point. Once I stopped feeling bad for myself, I became capable of seeing things from their perspective, and when it was all over, of thanking them for working to protect us.

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 698. Eytan Kobre may be contacted directly at kobre@mishpacha.com