I boarded the plane in Tampa exhausted from 3 days with youth and
youth leaders. It was a great leadership conference, and I was feeling incredibly hopeful for the church and the world, but remember it was with youth--you know those little creatures who stay up well past my bedtime and need to be chaperoned even though I still get up at 5:00 am? So I was completely exhausted and even, and this is hard to believe from this off the chart extrovert, needing some alone time.
I was heading home late on a Saturday night with Advent 1 the following day. I was worried about all four of my own children for various reasons and various degrees of severity, and while over the weekend I had experienced great joy and comfort from others who didn't even know they were comforting me, right then I just needed to be left alone.
We were sitting in the first half of the plane (not first class--seriously, you thought that?) but the first half of coach. Every few minutes I looked up from my book and watched the cart move towards our row. One flight attendant caught my eye. She looked just like a friend of mine who I know a) isn't a flight attendant and b) doesn't have a sister, but I kept stealing glances at her because it was so eery. I tried to be subtle--I didn't want her to think I was creepy.
As I watched her, I noticed she kept pressing her fingers to her head and a few times she gripped the cart with both hands and seemed to swerve as though she was dizzy or was afraid she would pass out. I thought to myself, "she must have a migraine." and if I'm truthful I desperately hoped it was that and not something contagious...being real here--I was worried about her, but I was also worried, read very worried, about getting sick myself.
Then I began the debate that often goes through my mind when wondering whether to speak up--should I ask her what's wrong? "No," I told myself, "It's none of my business and might embarrass her." I couldn't concentrate on my book and kept stealing looks at her hoping she wouldn't notice. And my stomach kept flipping like a puppy begging for attention--say something, say something, it seemed to say with each flip.
The cart stopped at our aisle and she asked me what I'd like. All I wanted was a pack of cookies (is there anything better than airplane cookies?). As she reached around the cart to hand them to me our hands touched. I reached out with my other one, placed it on top of hers and asked, "Are you okay?" She pulled her hand back and said, "Yes I'm fine." Ugh--had I offended her? I should have taken an antacid and ignored my stomach. Then her face softened and I said, "I just noticed you might have a headache." "Yes," she replied, "But you weren't supposed to see that. I have a job to do." And the cart moved on.
Twenty minutes later I looked up again and saw her approaching me. She knelt beside my chair and said, "Thank you for what you said. It meant a great deal, and I'm sorry if I sounded rude. It's just that I have a job to do and I was embarrassed someone noticed I might be a little off." I took her hand and said, "Yes you have a job to do but you are also human. Please take care of yourself." and then I blurted out, "What's your name and may I pray for you?" Honestly I froze--I was on a flight to Atlanta, Georgia and flashbacks of fundamentalism and judgmental religious rhetoric enveloped me--was she going to think I was one of them? (so maybe I'm a little judgmental too...) Instead she teared up, told me her name and said, "Yes."
And I didn't stop there. "I'm a priest." Why did I feel the need to add that? It doesn't matter--I can pray for her regardless....just this very minute I realize why I did and I'm not proud--I did it to defend why I asked her if I could pray for her so that she wouldn't think I was one of those overly annoying religious people--well that's another blogpost...I was so out of my comfort zone.
She looked down at the book I was reading--Lauren Winner's Girl Meets God--and she said, "I wish I could feel God right now." She continued sharing with me her story. "It's not really sickness, but it is a headache and I am dizzy because I can't breathe. I tried to get the day off but they wouldn't let me. You see I have an 18 year old estranged daughter whom I haven't seen in over a year. I made the mistake last night of looking at her instagram and it broke my heart. My husband tells me to stop looking but I just need to know she's still alive even if her life is one of destruction and danger."
I held both her hands and looked into her eyes as she continued talking. "Again thank you for noticing and for saying something," she finished, "It means more than I can say." "We are all humans struggling through life," I responded, "We need to notice each other, and please know you were doing a great job, it just hurt my heart to see you suffering." and then I added, "You are a good person and clearly a loving good and heart broken mother. I understand and I will pray for you." "Thank you," she whispered, rose and walked away.
One of the youth leaned over and said, "That was your good deed for the day. I'm glad you said something to her." It didn't feel like a good deed--it felt like a connection between two souls--two mommys who shared a common humanity.
Over the past few days I have prayed for this woman and her daughter. I have tried to figure out ways to contact her; perhaps I will be able to some day or perhaps that's not part of God's plan.
I didn't want to speak to this woman; I wanted to be left alone. God had a different plan.
I was out of my comfort zone...but not out of God's.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. (2 Corinthians1:3-4) New International Version