But he was of average height and build, fitting adequately into his allotted 18-inch spot. Already conscious of personal space, I tucked myself tightly into mine, leaning hard against the window and wondering aloud how taller-than-average travelers manage to fly comfortably. We made awkward but polite conversation as the plane taxied to the runway.
He was headed to New York via D.C. to visit his son, and I was spending the weekend with my daughter. My radar went up when he mentioned New York, and for a while we talked Yankee, lamenting about how hard it is to find good pizza, Philly steak and cheese, and Italian bread.
“What do you do?” I asked him.
“I was trained as a musician,” he said, “but I realized early on that I’d never be good enough to make a living, so I sell insurance. How about you?”
“I edit a Christian magazine,” I answered.
It was odd, really, for someone who values eye contact, but the respect for personal space required me to talk to him while staring at the back of the seat in front of me.
“I was raised a Roman Catholic,” he said.
“Me, too,” I replied with a smile, “like all good Yankees.”
“I never really thought about it much until my father was dying,” he said contemplatively. “My family was all there in the hospital, and I was doing okay for a while. Then a . . .” he paused as he searched for the unfamiliar term, “. . . chaplain came by. He asked me if there was anything he could do for us, and I just lost it. . . .” His voice trailed away, remembering. “We talked for about two hours in a room down the hall. It helped a lot.”
“Losing someone you care about gives you a different perspective,” I agreed. “My husband and I lost two sisters and a brother in 2010, and it was really hard.”
“Makes you wonder why stuff like that happens,” he said.
“I’ve been a Christian for over 30 years,” I said, “and I’ve noticed that the hardest experiences are the ones that teach me the most—usually how much I need God. And I almost always learn something that I can use to help someone else. The Bible talks about that, that we can comfort others with the comfort we’ve received. When that happens,” I paused, “it makes me feel like maybe I haven’t wasted the pain.”
The flight attendant came around with coffee and Cokes, and we fell silent, lost in our thoughts, until the Fasten Seat Belts sign came on. The reminder to return our seat backs “to their full, upright position” confirmed that we were preparing to land.
“I enjoyed talking to you,” he said as he gathered his bag and coat. “Usually it’s, well, you know. . .”
“Enjoy your time with your son,” I smiled in return.
Later, waiting on the tarmac to retrieve my suitcase, a woman with a gentle smile stood nearby.
“Were you sitting in 10D?” she asked.
“Yes,” I answered, expecting her to tell me I’d left something behind.
“I was in the row in front of you,” she said, “and I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed listening to your conversation. It was refreshing.” She smiled again and was gone.
“Be ready always to give a reason for the hope that is within you,” the Lord through Peter says, “but with gentleness and respect.”
I wonder: What if, instead of rushing through our lives, we asked the Lord to show us each day who needs a word of encouragement, hope, or truth? We might be surprised at what we see.
Lori Hatcher blogs over at Hungry for God . . . Starving for Time. There she posts twice-weekly 5-minute devotions for busy women. Why not hop on over and say hello?