About five years or so ago, Brad Paisley came out with a song called “What If He’s An Angel?”. I thought about that song today on the flight back from seeing Grandma Scribbler. I think I might have met one…
The flight was oversold– we were packed into that plane like sardines. Seated next to me was a man in his early 20’s, who seemed to have some form of mild mental incapacity. I’d seen him in the terminal before we boarded the plane. He was traveling with a man who seemed to be his father. When his father stepped away for a moment, he struck up a conversation with the woman seated next to him– a kindly woman in her early 50’s, who chatted politely for a few moments and then excused herself. I buried my nose deeper in the book I was reading, in order to avoid his gaze. Frankly, in the whole emotional hubub of this last weekend, I’d worked myself into a fairly bad mood and wasn’t terribly interested in going out of my way to keep up polite and perky conversation with strangers. (Can we say bad-attitude much?)
It seems God had other plans.
Wouldn’t you know it he was almost the last person to board the plane and ended up taking the last remaining open seat–the seat directly next to me. He must have thought I looked friendly (despite my best efforts to appear the contrary), because he wasted no time in introducing himself and striking up a conversation. Not having been raised by wolves, I put down my book, smiled politely, and carried on my end of the conversation– at least it was going to be a short flight.
He chattered on and on about the trip he’d taken that weekend, with his dad, to Coopertown, NY to see the Baseball Hall of Fame. He confided in me that they were taking the trip, just the two of them, without his mother or sister, because it was time they’d had a “Guys Weekend”. He’d liked Albany very much, but really needed to get home for work on Monday. He told me all about his job as a dietary aid at a hospital in Maryland, and how he’d worked there two years. He asked me if I knew anything about nutrition, and then passed on all his worldly knowledge on the subject.
“What do you do?” he finally paused long enough to ask.
“I have a little girl, so I’m home with her, but my husband is an accountant” I replied.
“No, I mean what’s your JOB,” he continued.
“Oh I don’t have one. I just take care of my little girl.”
“You don’t have a JOB?! I have a job. I work in a hospital.”
I couldn’t help but smile. I’ve been thinking about it all day– how perspectives are so different. This man is so proud of his job, so proud that he lives alone, that he manages to do his own grocery shopping (which he confided to me was the hardest part of living alone). Meanwhile, here I’ve been, so thankful that I don’t HAVE to have a job right now, that I can just stay home and take care of Little Scribbler by myself.
The conversation turned back to his trip– his dad had given him a t-shirt, listing all the Hall of Fame inductees on the back. He loves that t-shirt, and he loves that his dad took him up to Cooperstown, and that they ate at the Neptune Diner in Oneonta. He was delighted that not only had I ALSO been to Cooperstown, but that I was even familiar with the Neptune Diner. We discussed the need for more flights between Baltimore and Albany, which would alleviate the overcrowding on the plane. He suggested we tell the flight attendants and see if they could do anything to add more flights. So when the FA brought his Coke, he offered her his advice on the subject. She very sweetly referred him to the Southwest Airlines website and encouraged him to make the recommendation.
At one point, we hit some unsettling turbulence. Being something of a nervous flier, I closed my eyes, gripped the armrests, and prayed for safe landing. The man beside me was delighted about the turbulence and launched into the scientific explanation of what causes it.
“Oh, I dont like turbulence much,” was all I managed to contribute to this trajectory of conversation.
“Why not?” he asked, “are you afraid we’re going to crash!?”
As a matter of fact that was exactly what I was afraid of, and all I could manage was a weak smile back.
The plane eventually landed and we moved onto the jetway. His father was waiting for him.
“Have fun at work tomorrow,” I called as he walked away.
“Thanks, you too!” He replied.
I headed towards the escalator down to Ground Transportation to look for my aunt, who was picking me up. As it happened, the man and his father were riding the escalator next to me.
The father winked at me and whispered, “Thanks for being a good sport.” His comment sort of threw me for a loop and I responded with an awkward “Oh, that’s ok, I have a kid too”.
I’ve been thinking about what the father said all day. Imagining what his life must have been like raising his son in the world we live in. Wondering how many annoyed fellow airline travelers were rude to them in the past. Wondering how many people had made comments, or complained. Wondering why this father just accepted that people would typically be discourteous to his son.
I’m ashamed of myself for avoiding him in the terminal– for being too wrapped up in myself to want to spend emotional energy on another human being. It is easier to turn away, easier to avoid eye contact.
I too have a child who is different. I too get irritated glances from other mothers at the playground because of Little Scribbler’s impulsive behavior. I’ve been shunned by parishoners at church and I’ve overheard a little boy tell LS that she couldn’t play with his group of friends because she was weird. I imagine this man’s life, and his father’s life. I recall the pride in his voice as he explained to me his job, and his struggles with weekly food-shopping. I am brought back to the moment Little Scribbler learned to say her name– she was almost three years old, and most other kids her age were already speaking in full sentences.
What kind of world do we live in if it is “being a good sport” to converse politely with an enthusiastic and very courteous young man?! If a father accepts that the world will treat his son rudely– that rudeness is the norm!?
I’ve been thinking about this man all day, and wondering as the lyrics go, what if he IS an angel (figuratively speaking– I know angels are another race from men)? Whether he knows it or not, his chatter has stuck with me all day long. I’m ashamed of myself, and also, somehow, warmed in the heart from my conversation with him. I feel as tho his chatter might just have lured me out of a dark place I’d been wandering through and back onto the well-lit pathway to God.
How many other times have I avoided eye contact, stepped away, pretended I didnt hear, walked in the opposite direction, when I might have shown a little kindness to someone who likely doesn’t see it often? Is it possible that I have been so selfish!? I strongly suspect it IS possible, and that I might have a whole new category of sins to confess, that I hadn’t even realized I’d been committing…sins of selfish apathy.