Over Labor Day weekend, my wife and I took an extra day off of work and flew to Denver to visit some friends. It was a fantastic time, a time of laughter, good food, and relaxation. We took in the Allison Krause and Union Station concert at Red Rocks. We drove up to our friends’ cabin in the mountains. We hiked the garden of the Gods. We saw Boulder. We saw Golden. We held our niece’s baby, our great niece. We had a wonderful time.
The flight out to Denver was uneventful….just the way you prefer that a flight be. We moved smoothly through security without the need of a personal pat-down, our flight took off and landed on time, and our friend was there to meet us.
It was the flight home that I’d like to share about.
But before I get to that, I want to say that I must have one of those faces. Some people have faces that others would just as soon avoid. Scary faces. Mean faces. Faces that make you want to look the other way.
I guess I have a face that makes you want to talk.
It’s not really new to me. I’m sort of getting used to it. Sometimes I go into a brand new restaurant and say “hi” to the waitress, and the next thing I know, she’s filled me in on the details of her life…where she’s from…why she’s where she’s at…what she’d like to become…
Sometimes it’s ordinary stuff. Sometimes it’s difficult stuff…stuff that breaks people down.
Once, on a flight home from Albany, New York, I caught a connecting flight in Detroit. The guy in the seat next to mine started talking to me as we taxied to take off, and he stopped talking to me as we exited the plane in Indy. He shared that he and his wife were separated. She’d had an affair with a friend who was staying with them. He claimed that he was to blame because he had gotten caught up with online porn. By the time we were done talking, I knew all about his business, I knew why he was coming to Indiana, and I knew that he loved his wife despite the mess.
I don’t really know why people feel so free to talk to me. I have friends that I sit down with at lunch, and the next thing they know, they are telling me stuff. I have customers that spill their personal lives into my lap. I’ve come to expect it and it just happens, and usually I am happy to listen and if needed, I try to help.
But, sometimes, I just don’t want it to happen.
Sometimes, I just want to relax. Sometimes, I just want to enjoy a trip with my wife.
Now back to my flight home from Denver. We were in the terminal, and we were early, so we found some seats facing our gate. My wife sat down first, there was an open seat next to her and then there was a seat that had a guy’s stuff on it. The guy with the stuff was in the next seat after that. He was taking up a bit of space, so being courteous, I said hello as I sat down.
I guess that opened the door.
He started talking to me. He said he flew a lot. He told me that he had been in the military. He used to be married, but he left when his wife got bossy. His brother was still in the military. He was coming to Indiana to go on a religious retreat. He thought Eli Manning was a much better quarterback than Peyton Manning. On and on.
He also fidgeted a lot. He couldn’t sit still very long, and kept rubbing his face, smoothing his straggly beard. It didn’t take me very long to decide that he didn’t have all of his mental screws tightened down.
He made me feel uncomfortable.
I really just didn’t want to talk to him, but I didn’t want to be rude. I didn’t want to outright shut him down. However, I also didn’t want to encourage the conversation, so I didn’t carry the conversation forward. I only spoke in response to something he would say or ask. I kept hoping he would sort of understand that I didn’t want to converse. Despite my stoicism, he kept talking to me.
Silently….I said a little prayer…
“Please God, don’t let him sit next to me on the plane.”
Now, there were dozens of people on this flight. It was basically full. The chances of him sitting next to me were 100 to 1, but I knew as soon as I said that silent prayer that he would be right next to me.
My seat was 22C. It wasn’t five minutes later that I learned that his seat was 22D. He was directly beside me, across the aisle.
Maybe I should have gotten the hint from that fact, but I still didn’t want to talk to him.
Our flight boarded. I sat down. He sat down. I was sort of in luck in that there were two cute young women who were sitting on the other side of him, so they got some of his attention also. I felt kind of lucky, but I also felt kind of guilty.
Still I didn’t want to talk to him. So, I took the freebee ear-buds that Frontier Airlines gives you so you can hear the sound from their little seatback TVs, and I put one in my ear on his side to discourage him from bothering me. I watched a little TV. I read my book. I ignored the slightly crazy guy in 22D.
For the most part it worked. He only nudged my arm a few times during the flight. The rest of the time he sat and fidgeted, or talked to the girls. I flew in peace, and….
…I failed the test!
When you think through this whole thing, does it really sound to you like a coincidence? I mean, what are the chances? I already shared the odds.
Now, maybe he was just a slightly wacked out former marine. Or, maybe he was something more. There’s just something about this thing that’s been gnawing at me.
Consider Hebrews 13:2…
“Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”
Would it have been so bad to have spent some time talking to him? Could I have opened my heart up to a stranger and made him feel safe and cared about? Could I have taken some of the burden off of the two young college-age girls who sat on his other side? Did he need a friendly ear?
Would it have been too much to ask of me to sacrifice a little bit of my personal satisfaction on a two and a half hour flight home? In retrospect, I think not. I failed.
My “angel” in 22D is still on my mind. He reminds me that I have some growing to do…in compassion…and, in dealing with my own personal selfishness.
Next time, I’ll do better.