We both sighed when the gate agent announced our flight would be delayed – again. Only twenty more minutes the agent promised. My stomach gurgled as I slumped into my seat and returned to my book. Great. I’d probably have to run like a crazy woman to make my connecting flight at the next airport. These kinds of delays are one of the reasons I dislike traveling alone. My mind inevitably churns with all the “what ifs,” especially if re-routing is involved. I took a deep breath to calm myself. Then out of the corner of my eye I noticed the woman beside me pulling something from her canvas bag. She settled back and removed a small square of colored paper from the package on her lap and began folding the paper. Her fingers moved quickly, and in about two minutes she was twirling a little paper bird in her fingers. I lowered my book.
“How pretty,” I said.
She smiled. “It’s a peace crane. I’m making them for the guests at my wedding.”
I smiled back and took note of her appearance. She wasn’t young and there was an air of calm confidence about her that I envied.
“I’ve never heard of them,” I said.
This middle aged bride-to-be then explained about the Cranes for Peace project, the Children’s Peace Statue and how she hoped her bright paper creations would be a useful reminder for her wedding guests. My book stayed on my lap as she talked. The hypnotic rhythm of her fingers working the paper was a pretty distraction from my current travel worries. My anxiety was much reduced before we were finally called to board the plane. The bride shared with me that she was a chaplain and just before we went our separate ways, she gifted me with a pink crane.
I still have it.
I was kind of shocked when the man in the clerical collar glanced at the flight attendants legs then asked her if she played tennis.
“I used to,” she replied, “but it ruined my legs. I have no strength in my joints anymore.”
“That happens to a lot of athletes,” he said.
I didn’t really want to be privy to their conversation so I buried my nose in my book. (Yeah, I always travel with a book). It wasn’t too long before I was nodding off, but the priest must not have noticed because he leaned across the aisle and said, “That’s a very good book.”
I guess a priest would have to say that about Mere Christianity. I smiled at him. “I’ve read it a couple of times and always learn something new.”
As our conversation progressed I learned that he traveled throughout the country helping high school coaches build team spirit and foster a positive attitude towards their sport. One of his programs main principles was to highlight respect for one’s opponent.
“The seeds of that respect are planted when we respect our mothers,” the priest said. “It all begins there.”
We exchanged a few more pleasantries and time passed quickly. Watching his retreating form as we deplaned, I marveled at the people we meet when traveling.
Well, the guy was from Maine, after all. I noticed him sitting in the window seat as I told the man next to him that he was in mine. Got that? There was an open seat in the middle though, and I volunteered to sit there so the offender could stay in the aisle seat. I plopped myself down next to the guy from Maine. Nothing much was said until it was time to decide on the movie.
“Have you seen this? the man asked.
“I have,” I replied. “It’s quite good and has a wonderful message.”
The movie also had some funny parts, and I felt my friend chuckling at the same spots that I had. When the movie was over he thanked me for recommending it.
“There are no accidents,” was the message in Kung Fu Panda, and the man was truly touched.
From there our conversation escalated to matters of faith, and I happened to mention my frequent flyer book, Mere Christianity. It was downright spooky what happened next. The couple in front of us peeked through the small crack between the seats and chuckled. Then the man held up the book he was reading, The Complete Works of C.S. Lewis which I knew had to include Mere Christianity. A chill ran down my spine.
My new buddy, Paul, (he revealed his name and shook my hand later) then told me of the difficulty he’d had when a beloved nephew died in a car accident a few years earlier. I just let him talk. I’d figured out it was no accident that I’d sat beside him that day. The few hours on that plane passed quickly, and when it was time to land my head was full of much more than travel fears.
“If you only knew who walked beside you,” said Paul just before we parted.
I smiled at that. It seems I’m watched over in the area of my greatest fear and these three examples let me know it’s so.