This one’s going out to my “peeps” in the cool row—row 23! You know who you are. I hope y’all had smooth flights out of Atlanta!
A week or two ago I was on a plane heading back to Atlanta. The flight was full, and I was nearly the last person aboard. I got to row 23, and found my window seat: 23F. I pushed “the football,” (my affectionate nickname for my laptop bag because it is as important to me as the nuclear launch codes are to the president) under the chair in front of me and settled in.
It was just after Easter, and on Easter Sunday morning David Jones had offered this up during our greeting time in church: “During this time, please greet each other with your names and answer this one question. Peeps: yes or no?” So I looked at the folks next to me and said, “Excuse me, but I have an important question. Peeps: yes or no?”
23E wasn’t sure what Peeps were at first, but fully understood when 23D began explaining them in detail, including all the color and character variations as well as the optimal way to enjoy them (which apparently includes opening a small vent hole in the packaging to allow them to get just a little hard). 23E would have no part of it. So for 23D, an enthusiastic YES! to peeps. For 23E, a very firm NO.
And that’s when I heard her. 21F. She was on her phone and was, shall we say, animated in her conversation. It seems she and her significant other were headed to a wedding and needed to buy a present. But there just weren’t going to be enough weekends available to accomplish this task. Not only that, but they were moving, and she was highly concerned about July, August, and September.
23D and E, having followed her conversation for much longer, filled me in on some of the finer points that I had missed, making me regret my decision to wait until last to board the plane. As they talked, others in the seats around us began offering commentary as well, and I realized that the entire back half of the plane was conversant in her story, which had apparently been developing in the gate area long before the flight and continued during the entire boarding process and pushback.
The flight attendant announced that it was time to turn off all electronic devices, but 21F did not immediately comply, leading us to wonder if they would simply take her phone or if we would get to see what happens when a flight attendant gets nasty. My money was on 21F to keep the conversation going until a second flight attendant got involved, but she complied with instructions just in the nick of time. After one of the more interesting and unsettling takeoffs I’ve experienced (which led 23D to nickname our pilot “Spongebob”), we sat back and wondered if the wedding gift was going to happen, grateful that 21F didn’t talk so loud when she wasn’t on the phone.
We landed safely in Atlanta (I gave it an 7 out of 10, though 23E was not nearly as generous in her assessment). As soon as the nose wheel came down, 21F got her phone back out. Significantly calmer, but no softer, she discussed the idea of purchasing a gift card. Her tone was more gentle. She was much less agitated. Perhaps Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Sensible gift, 21F. Crisis averted. 21F ended her call. Then we pulled into the gate and everyone stepped off the plane, but not before 21F thanked 21E for chatting with her (I’ve already submitted 21E to the Vatican for consideration for sainthood).
As I was riding the plane train back to the terminal building, I kept thinking about 21F. She was completely unaware that fully half of the folks on that flight knew her entire story. Some laughed. Some were annoyed. Some did their best to ignore it. She had no idea how she affected us, and I wondered if we shouldn’t all be a little more aware of how we affect those around us—for better or for worse. I imagined that would make a pretty good article and started writing it I my head.
But the longer I thought on it, the more I realized that’s not where the real story was. The real story was in seat 21E. I don’t know what 21E and F talked about once the wheels came up on the plane, but whatever it was, it brought 21F a lot of peace (and a lot of peace for the person on the other end of the phone call as well!). I felt a twinge of guilt. 21E had talked with her for an hour and three minutes, bringing her comfort...and all I had done was laugh at her. Who needed to be more aware of how we affect those around us? 23F, that’s who. Passenger Cowden.
How many times are we handed opportunities to act out of grace and compassion? How many times do we have the chance to be the hands or voice of God to those around us? And how many times do we miss all that entirely because we’re wrapped up in our own lives and experiences?