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8.30.2010

A PLANE, A PRIEST AND NO WHERE TO SIT

Planes are interesting settings for social experiments.  People are crammed into each other's personal spaces coming from long days, eagerness to get somewhere, tragedy they are flying to or from, business, pleasure...  About a year and a half ago I was flying back from Texas from a job interview.  The plane back from Houston was at capacity and the only few dotted seats left were singles scattered here and there.  They were mostly middle seats:)  I sat down.  I watched this mom and dad and 5 year old boy enter the plane.  They looked uncomfortable (who isn't when you board a plane after everyone else) as the entire couple hundred passengers stared back at them.  The flight attendant told them there were no three seats together and that they would all have to sit separately.  Instantly the little boy began to sob and cling to his mom.  My heart couldn't take it.  No little 5 year old should have to be separated from a parent.  I spoke to the person who was sitting next to me on the plane and asked if he would be willing to give up his seat and I would give up my mine to the mom and the 5 year old.  He agreed.  I went to the front of the plane where the crying boy still stood frightened and told the flight attendant there were now two seats together.    Now I began to feel uncomfortable like this family.  Every eye was watching me.  The flight attendant told me there were several single seats in the back of the plane.  So, I head back there.  I can see the looks on people's faces who have an available middle seat next to them, "Please, don't sit here, please...I want the extra room."  So, in the awkwardness I loudly and laughingly said to the rear of the plane, "Ok, who really, really wants me to sit by them!?"  It broke the ice and several offered.   I sat down between an older gentleman and a very nice young single gal.  Her and I began to chat it up (it's what I do).  Soon that flight attendant came to tell me she had found an aisle seat and wanted me to have it.  How kind.  How gracious.  I followed her to it after thanking the rear of the plane for temporarily hosting me.  I sit down in the now 3rd seat that I've been in on this packed plane.  The gentleman next to me in the middle seat is a priest who is already sound asleep before we have taxied down the runway.  He never awakens as I sit down, we take off and or begin to climb altitude.  I'm thinking it will be a quiet flight home.  It was far from a quiet flight.  In fact, it was without doubt the most turbulent flight I've ever been on.  The priest continues to sleep undisturbed by some pretty violent turbulence.  At one point, the roughest moment, when I thought, "Wow, I'm not sure we are going to live through this.", I just grab his arm for comfort.  No, I don't mean that I touched it or grabbed his hand.  I quickly and firmly slipped my whole arm underneath his, grabbed a hold of him and leaned in closely.  Well, nothing like a woman touching a priest to bring him to:)  I realized what I had done and was embarrassed that I not only touched, but grabbed him and woke him up.  He opened his eyes (seeing me for the first time since I sat down next to him) and smiled.  I tried to explain that I forgot where I was sitting and wasn't near anyone that I knew.  So glad was I that I did grab him because for the next few hours this 70+ year old priest and I had the most interesting conversations you could ever imagine.  We talked freely about God, what he knew about God, what he said he didn't know and was ok with not knowing, what it means to be changed by Christ.  He shared his life growing up in Italy with me, what becoming a priest in Italy means/what surrounds it, his family, going to school, his friends who became priests....  He told me of coming to the U.S. 25 years previous and how he was the administrator of two boys schools - one on the east coast and one in Houston.  I shared very little of my own life, but how funny God must be to put a protestant pastor's wife next to an Italian Catholic priest and she then nearly climb on top of him.  That brought a huge smile to his face.  He asked me sitting there what I thought my gifts were.   I said, "Well....".  But before I could even get it out, he answered for me. "You have the gift of people.  I have sat by you, me a relatively quiet, shy priest, and you have proceeded to get me to tell you things I never speak about.  Let alone with a total stranger.  You lady, have the gift of people."    I think about that man, how I jumped several seats to get placed next to him, how he had confirmed my decision to take that job, had given me comfort, had amazingly great stimulating conversation with and how he had affirmed me.  Next time I need to give up a seat on a plane, it's a wild adventure I don't want to miss out on and one I think God orchestrates.

1 comment:

  1. Love, love, love this story/experience! Wish I could catch a flight today...

    ReplyDelete