Overheard on a Plane

I was thankful he wasn’t six feet tall—or weighed 300 pounds, this man who shared the too-small pair of seats with me on my flight to Washington. 

But he was of average height and build, fitting adequately into his allotted 18-inch spot. Already conscious of personal space, I tucked myself tightly into mine, leaning hard against the window and wondering aloud how taller-than-average travelers manage to fly comfortably. We made awkward but polite conversation as the plane taxied to the runway. 

He was headed to New York via D.C. to visit his son, and I was spending the weekend with my daughter. My radar went up when he mentioned New York, and for a while we talked Yankee, lamenting about how hard it is to find good pizza, Philly steak and cheese, and Italian bread. 

“What do you do?” I asked him. 

“I was trained as a musician,” he said, “but I realized early on that I’d never be good enough to make a living, so I sell insurance. How about you?” 

“I edit a Christian magazine,” I answered. 

It was odd, really, for someone who values eye contact, but the respect for personal space required me to talk to him while staring at the back of the seat in front of me. 

“I was raised a Roman Catholic,” he said. 

“Me, too,” I replied with a smile, “like all good Yankees.” 

“I never really thought about it much until my father was dying,” he said contemplatively. “My family was all there in the hospital, and I was doing okay for a while. Then a . . .” he paused as he searched for the unfamiliar term, “. . . chaplain came by. He asked me if there was anything he could do for us, and I just lost it. . . .” His voice trailed away, remembering. “We talked for about two hours in a room down the hall. It helped a lot.” 

“Losing someone you care about gives you a different perspective,” I agreed. “My husband and I lost two sisters and a brother in 2010, and it was really hard.” 

“Makes you wonder why stuff like that happens,” he said. 

“I’ve been a Christian for over 30 years,” I said, “and I’ve noticed that the hardest experiences are the ones that teach me the most—usually how much I need God. And I almost always learn something that I can use to help someone else. The Bible talks about that, that we can comfort others with the comfort we’ve received. When that happens,” I paused, “it makes me feel like maybe I haven’t wasted the pain.” 

The flight attendant came around with coffee and Cokes, and we fell silent, lost in our thoughts, until the Fasten Seat Belts sign came on. The reminder to return our seat backs “to their full, upright position” confirmed that we were preparing to land. 

“I enjoyed talking to you,” he said as he gathered his bag and coat. “Usually it’s, well, you know. . .” 

“Enjoy your time with your son,” I smiled in return. 

Later, waiting on the tarmac to retrieve my suitcase, a woman with a gentle smile stood nearby. 

“Were you sitting in 10D?” she asked. 

“Yes,” I answered, expecting her to tell me I’d left something behind. 

“I was in the row in front of you,” she said, “and I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed listening to your conversation. It was refreshing.” She smiled again and was gone. 

“Be ready always to give a reason for the hope that is within you,” the Lord through Peter says, “but with gentleness and respect.” 

I wonder: What if, instead of rushing through our lives, we asked the Lord to show us each day who needs a word of encouragement, hope, or truth? We might be surprised at what we see.

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  1. Oops!!! more than average is also very bad for social life. They will be center of attraction.

    Kopi Luwak

  2. Great post, Lori.
    It's timely too as we travel during the holidays. As communicators for Christ, we never know who is listening beyond the person we are speaking with at the time.
    Thanks for sharing this encouraging story.
    Shine on!

    1. You're right, Carolyn. So often, though, we blunder through our day without our radar on, thinking it's all about us. I wonder how many opportunities we miss?

  3. Wonderful encouragement, Lori!
    Thanks for sharing this. It's so easy to rush through the day, but we're surrounded by opportunities to touch a heart--I don't want to miss those! Thanks for the reminder to slow down and reach out!

    1. I can't wait to hear your stories, Jean. You're great at taking your love for the Lord wherever you go. Thanks for stopping by.

  4. What a wonderful opportunity and you took advantage of it in such a natural and effective way. Great job, Sister.
    : )

    1. You know, Gail, I think when God engineers the circumstances, he also fills our mouths with the words he wants us to say. It's all his idea, after all :) I'm not sure why we're ever surprised.

  5. Anonymous11:19 AM

    I came over from A Mama's Story and am so glad I did. You just never know the life you will touch, often without ever having a clue you did (as in the woman that overheard what you said). God surely was smiling on you that day as He watched you share His love with a stranger.

    1. I hope so, friend. And I'm thankful for the grace he bestows when we blunder on past a great opportunity to speak for him. So comforted that his mercies are new every morning!

  6. It does matter what we say, we just never know!

  7. Anonymous8:10 AM

    I saw your link at Michelle DeRusha's place. This is the first time I have visited your blog and I love what you have to say. I actually linked to this post on my blog today.

  8. What a door was opened for you on that flight! I can see where your words would comfort your fellow passenger, and how delightful that the woman ahead of you commented on how she was encouraged as well.

    I am a big believer in how the sometimes seemingly short conversations and small words God gives us helps others so much more than we will ever realize.

    Thanks for sharing! I found you via Beth's Wedded Wednesday.

  9. I love the interchange of conversation that happens on a plane. This was a special exchange that you had with this man. I hope he finds the Lord.

    1. It is pretty cool, Judy, how the barriers sometimes come down and conversations that you wouldn't have anywhere else just seem to flow naturally. Thanks for chiming in today!

  10. That was such a great reminder of how natural sharing our faith can be. I admit to being a terrible conversation starter--especially on cramped planes but you've encouraged me to see how one little thing can lead to another. Great post, Lori

    1. Thanks, Marcia, you're right, sometimes the shared, too-small space inhibits conversation. But now and then there's that divine appointment. We need to be ready . . . Thanks for stopping by today, friend.


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