Monday, March 3, 2014

The Flight

Some of you may be familiar with this little story but I like it and felt it was worth retelling. Nice reminders about listening to God’s prompts and caring about others.

The Flight

“The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.”
― Wilhelm Stekel

The tall slender man scanned the seats on the airline. The flight was overbooked. The attendant had been kind enough to squeeze him into the last available spot. At least, that’s what she’d claimed.

John smiled to himself. Rows and rows of cramped airline seats with hairy (and not so hairy) heads lined each side of the aisle. And yet, at his row, no telltale scrap of fluff appeared. Score -- an empty seat! He heaved a sigh of relief.

It wasn’t that the young man was opposed to conversation. In fact, on the flight East he’d spent an enjoyable few hours flirting with the attractive female flight attendant. At the end, they’d even exchanged phone numbers. But today, John felt the twinges of a higher calling.

Before the day began, John usually offered up a short prayer to God. “God, lead me to the people you want me to meet today.” Somehow, without trying, the conversations would end up touching another person’s spiritual soul.

“What kind of work are you in? Have you read any good books recently? What was that like?” John was interested in people. He exuded a genuine interest in other people that they responded to and in return, opened up about their own problems. Witnessing wasn’t about preaching; it was about having a sincere concern for another human being – viewing them with the same value as God.

But today John wasn’t feeling particularly interested in selfless conversation. His ego was rather proud of how he’d charmed the lovely flight attendant on the last flight.

“Come, on, John. Ask me.” God whispered quietly yet insistently as he boarded the plane. “Ask me to lead you to those people who need a hint of My love through you today.”

John shook his head. “Not today, God.”

“John,” God’s whisper was a bit sterner, “ask me.”

“No,” he persisted and dug his hands deeper into his pockets.

Now he breathed a sigh of relief. He wouldn’t have to sit next to someone trying to ignore his inner conscious, reminded by his seatmate of God’s earlier request. God couldn’t blame him for not reaching out to a non-existent seatmate, after all.

Relief turned to momentary panic though when John reached his row. There was a little girl sitting next to window! A small, blond-haired thing, definitely under the age of ten. Visions of kicking, screaming, wiggling children swept, mockingly, through his mind. He groaned inwardly. He didn’t like children. Children got into mischief. They were unpredictable. They scared him sometimes. John wondered if this was God’s comedic cosmic karma from God for his earlier refusal.  

As he buckled his seat belt, he noticed the girl seemed absorbed in a rather thick novel.  “Awfully thick book for such a little girl but, at least it’ll keep her occupied and quiet during the entire flight,” he thought. He closed his eyes without greeting her.

The engines churned and the familiar roar of the powerful machinery began. The plane rumbled along the runway and finally shook off it’s earthly shackles as it’s nose shivered into the air. John felt his body cemented to the back of his seat. He liked the tangible defiance of gravity that lift-off entailed.

Abruptly, his sacred reverie was brutally halted by the awful retching sounds of his blond-haired seat-mate being violently sick. The formally inspirational upward path of the plane against gravity and the tilting gyration as the aircraft manoeuvred along its flight pattern only made the situation worse. Vomit flew in every direction. Shoes. Seats. Floor. The girl. And, heaven help him, even John!

Frantically, John stood up and waved his arms. “Help! Help! Emergency.” He pushed the call button repeatedly. (Thankfully this was before 9-11 or he’d have been promptly arrested as a suspected mad terrorist).

The flight attendants were not impressed. “You could help us, Sir,” one of the stewards said with a hint of accusation as she attempted to clean up the mess.

“But, she’s not mine!” It was all he could do to keep his own cookies down.

At last the attendants dragged the poor girl off to the bathroom and managed to wipe her down to a socially acceptable level again. With damp cloths they cleaned the seats and window and floor, at last pouring coffee grounds on the floor and seat to help absorb lingering odours.

They deposited the damp, bedraggled girl into her seat that was covered in a blanket now. The terse nod by the flight attendant assured John that any hope of a seat transfer was not going to happen. John sighed and made sure the cloth covered his entire seat, trying gingerly to avoid stepping on the coffee grounds. So much for a quiet uneventful flight!

“So, what’s your name?” He turned to the damp creature next to him.

“Amy,” she said, turning to answer him with solemn blue eyes.

“How old are you?” He noticed that her breath still had that telltale acrid odour of bile. Too bad the flight attendants hadn’t brushed her teeth too. He steeled his stomach against the less-than-ideal aroma.

“Seven,” she gave a shy smile now.

“How come you’re travelling all by yourself?”

“My parents are divorced,” she explained in a matter of fact tone. “My dad and step-mom live in Philadelphia. My mom lives in L.A.”

“You must do a lot of flying then?”

“Yep.” She nodded emphatically. “I’ve been back and forth twelve times.”

“Does reading when you’re flying sometimes make you sick?”

“Oh no! I always bring a book along. This is the first time, ever, that I got sick.” She looked down at her lap, embarrassed a bit.

John sat back and absorbed this information. The only flight she gets sick on and I happen to be her seatmate at the time.  What are you trying to say, God? He was now pretty confident God had an offbeat sense of humour. He also found himself feeling sympathy for the girl’s plight.

Resigning himself to his fate, and her vomit-tinged breath, he read the author of Amy’s book. Piers Anthony. “Wow, do you always read such large books?”

“I like Piers Anthony. He has a whole series of books….” She chattered happily about her favourite stories.

John asked more questions. Self and ego were left behind. It was about helping to alleviate the girl’s travelling travails. No ulterior motives. No expectations. Friendly conversation without thought of reciprocity. He simply wanted to help make this girl’s flight a bit more pleasant after her earlier illness.

“Where are you flying?” Amy put her book down and looked up at her seatmate with curiosity.

“I’m flying home from a high school reunion.”

“Oh.” She nodded politely.

“Would you like to see some photos?” John brought out his photo book that mercifully had been in the overhead bin, spared from the catastrophic events some minutes ago.

She flipped through the album, studying the photos. “You must love your truck,” the blond child noted astutely.

“Mmm…yes,” John nodded. “It’s an Isuzu Trooper. I like to take it off road in the desert.”

The miles flew by, literally. It was over Utah that Amy suddenly turned to her seatmate and tilted her head up at him, studying his face. “You’re my most favourite person I’ve ever flown with….”

John’s heart went pitter-patter and promptly melted into a puddle of sentiment.

Then she straightened up in her chair. “….well, except for that nine year old boy.”

As they neared their destination, the two passengers buckled their seat belts. Pleasant memories filled both their heads. “You know,” Amy adjusted her lap belt, “every kid should have someone like you to fly with.” She smiled up at John.

John felt his ideas about children slipping away, at least for this one.  John thought, “God if anyone ever hurts this girl they’ll have me to answer to.” 

To which God replied, “They are all my girls, John.” 

John turned his attention back to his seatmate.  Amy held her hands up to her face, forming a frame with her fingers and clicked her pretend camera. “So I can remember you,” she informed him.

John smiled at his new friend. He probably would never see her again. He’d reached out to this seven-year-old girl in her hour of distress, putting aside any thought to himself. He shook his head imperceptibly. In spite of his earlier protests, God still found a way to reach him. By keeping his heart open to unselfish love, John had seamlessly reached out and blessed another child of God. And, in return, he’d been blessed in so many other intangible ways. It was a lesson to remember.

The plane landed and taxied to a stop. John stood up to grab his bag from the overhead bin. Before he’d finished collecting his bags, he felt a tap on his shoulder. The greying male passenger seated behind them on the flight looked at John, a bemused smile on his lips. “Young man, you have quite a way with children. Did you know that?” His eyes twinkled.

What could John say in return? He nodded silently. Not been told that before. Gratitude for the lessons from above filled his heart as he made his way to baggage claim. And, under the watchful eye of the flight attendants who held her back until everyone had unloaded, Amy watched John disappear into the masses of people disembarking. I have it on good authority that she talked enthusiastically about that nice man on flight 356 for quite some time after. A double blessing.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death even death on a cross!”      Philippians 2: 3-8