Recently I had a long flight. It was not one of those thirteen or fifteen hour flights to Asia. Those are killers. But this flight was long enough. I am one of those older folks who always want to tell people that flying today is not like it was! That is not unusual. Most things today are not like they used to be! But older folks want to tell the story.
Of course, in the older days there was no security control. Families would accompany the one taking the trip and often the whole gang would go right to the gate. In fact, the family could almost walk into the plane, say good-bye and then leave. At least, that is how I remember it! The other thing I remember is that most people dressed up when they were to fly. It was almost as if the journey was going to be a sacred undertaking. Dressing up was required, like going to church. But in the old days, most of the travelers were probably business people and they always had to dress up anyway. No doubt, we all put a twist on our own memory.
My recent trip was nothing like the good old days. I was dressed in jeans, sneakers, etc. Security is serious business, so friends and families cannot get close to that threshold to the skyways. Because you have to go through security, you usually are at the gate much earlier than needed. There always is a great deal of time to wait. That is when the people watching begins.
Any poor soul with a very young child is often treated like someone with a disease. People begin to pray that the crying child sits as far away as possible when everyone is boarded! People with weight problems are also dreaded. Again even the atheist is tempted to pray, “Lord, please do not let me be seated next to him!” And then there are the folks who seem actually to be diseased. Some poor people really are sick. There are colds, sniffles, coughs, etc. Those are the obvious problems. Who knows about the really silent, deadly problems lurking in the bodies of those who will board that same plastic cocoon (or whatever it is made of) that we all voluntarily enter.
The doors shut and we are captive for hours. Once we are on board, the sick people continue to be sick. Some even seem to get worse because of the dry air or whatever. The heavy folks continue to be heavy. The kids continue to be kids. Sometimes they beginning crying immediately and that confirms our worst nightmare. Sometimes through divine intervention, they drift off to sleep.
I don’t ever remember a flight---particularly a long flight---being a spiritual experience. But reflecting on my last flight, I realized the problem was mine. It took a few aeronautical miles to come to grips with the fact that the problem was mine. After all, I am not a kid, not sick that I know of, not overweight. As I saw it, I was the perfect passenger subjected to a minefield of imperfect passengers! Only by the grace of God and, probably some beneficent twist of fate would I survive one more long flight.
Reflection brought me down from my 35,000 feet in the sky perspective. I had to admit that I am not the perfect passenger. Oh, for sure, I was a passenger on the plane. But perfect I was not. And as a passenger through life, I am not perfect either. I realized my long plane ride was becoming an analogy for our journey through life. I had much to learn and, of course, a few hard truths to accept.
Life is like the plane ride. We journey through life by ourselves, but often in the company of many people whom we have not chosen. Many of them won’t be like me. And if I had a choice, in all honesty I probably would not have chosen to travel with them. Some are sick; there are crying kids; some adults seem crazy; too many are overweight. Some are too tall. I even think some look boring, but I have no clue how I would know that!
Suddenly it is as if God revealed the mirror into which I could have been looking. I might be very boring to someone. I have been sick in the past and probably will get sick again. No doubt, I have my crazy moments. I am not a kid, but there are times when all I want to do is cry. Actually, many of my fellow travelers likely would not choose me, if they had a choice.
Perhaps we all are misfits travelling on the plane of life. It made me glad that I am not God---not in charge. I prefer being graced to being God. I vowed to use this long flight as an opportunity for developing the self-discovery I was experiencing. Could I learn to be graceful instead of grumpy? Could I learn to accept every person on the plane---and on the plane of life---instead of selectively wishing some would not make it?
Being spiritual is a tall order. No wonder it is a long trip. Self-discovery is typically the first step. But it is only the first step. The next step is the first step into the beginning walk into the love like God’s. I am taking baby steps, but I am moving.