I’ve just boarded the plane in Atlanta. Behind me, the beautiful city of Boston, and my friends. It’s been a wonderful time of connection, and now I’m going home.
Here he comes. “Excuse me,” the tall-tall-very-tall fellow says, and I hop out of my seat, scooching into the aisle to make way. I watch him fold those long legs awkwardly into the tiny space, and I think to myself, “Sometimes, short legs really are helpful!”
I’m exhausted and want to be invisible. No energy just now for conversation, so I take my Kindle and purposely focus on the text. Beside me, he pops in earbuds and begins watching something on his phone.
After sitting immobile for so long, I am restless. I squirm and try to settle in, tucking my jacket around my legs. In the wiggling, I accidentally scrape his jean-clad leg. Shoot fire. “I’m sorry,” I say.
“No problem,” he says, and his eyes do not lift from his phone.
Some minutes go by. Again with the wriggling and trying to settle. Again with the accidental scraping. Good grief! So I say it again. “I’m so sorry!” He says his thing again, and it’s quiet. But now–okay. Now I have to talk.
“Are you from South Bend or going through?” That’s where I begin, and there we go. He and his wife have been on vacation. His wife went home the day before, “…but they offered me a thousand dollars if I took a flight the next day. That will pay for our next vacation, so I took it.”
Ah. Hence the reason for traveling alone.
He and his wife both work for the federal court in the county next to us. They have two children, he tells me, and the oldest one’s in a foreign country teaching English as a second language. Aha! There’s my connection. So now I tell him about my own son, my World Race traveler who, too, taught English overseas. He is listening.
“What do you do, exactly, for the federal court?” I’d really like to know, and he gives me an interesting answer. He’s a federal probation officer. While he was gone for the week, one of his wards died of an overdose. It was the fifth OD that got him. We talk about burnout; about how you stay sane in a job like this. Then I ask him a question. “Are your parents still alive?”
Yes, he says, they’re alive. “I don’t tell my mom everything. I don’t tell her that they (make me) wear a vest and strap a gun on me when I make my visits. It’s not so much because of the probationer, but “because I don’t know who’s with ’em.” What he’s saying without saying it is, there is danger. He doesn’t tell his mother.
“Well,” I say, looking into his face, only my eyes showing above my mask, “if one of my boys was doing that job, I’d be very proud of him.” I can tell that he hears me.
“Thank you. That means a lot.”
I tell him that I will ask God to protect him. He thanks me for that, too, and now we’re down to the bone. “I was raised Catholic. I married a divorced woman with two children, and the church didn’t…” He trails away, but I hear what he’s saying. He’s put God out at arms length because of the church. “It’s not so much God Himself as it is people.”
I know exactly what he’s saying, and I fill it in. “It’s the people who misrepresented Him.”
“I could not have said it better.” That’s what he says, and that’s my cue.
“Don’t focus anymore on people. There came a time in my own life where I was so sick of having other people interpret God for me. I couldn’t take it anymore, so I cried out to God and told Him, ‘I don’t need one more story of what You’ve done or who You’ve been for someone else. Don’t even. I want to know for myself who You are and what You think of me.'” I am laser focused, looking, once more, into his face.
“God took me seriously. He started showing me who He was and what He thought of me. Once you know Him,” I say, and all the feeling in the world is in my voice. “Once you know Him, you will love Him.”
He thanks me again. I ask for his first name, and he gives it. The plane lands, and off we go, a 6-foot 4-inch man who’s wary of God following a 5-foot mother who’s His friend. We are, both of us, heading home.
- A cheerful Monday reminder–if you haven’t signed up for a chance to win one of the two $25 gift cards from Main Street Roasters, pop in on this blog post over here and leave your name and a comment over there. I can’t treat you to coffee if you don’t. 🙂