To the Navy Airman I sat next to on the flight from Pensacola to Charlotte:
I do not know your name; forgive me for not asking. But you don’t know mine either. We only spoke once the flight landed in Charlotte. A couple times during the short hour long flight, you seemed nervous? Anxious? I didn’t know. I guessed nervous at first. You were surreptitiously taking pictures out the window of the city below when we left Pensacola and again when headed into Charlotte. And maybe once during the flight, when we were high above the clouds. So I thought maybe this was a first flight for you, or at least, a rare occurrence, something you wanted to capture and remember. But then you told me you were my in the military so I figured you actually have a lot more experience flying than I have had of late.
You were polite, handsome, articulate, and so young. No offense to you. It might just be that looking at your unlined face and jet black hair, your smooth hands and muscled shoulders without the inevitable slump that comes from life, and your impossibly long and thick eyelashes (seriously, why do so many men have the luxurious eyelashes that women spend so much money trying to attain?!?) I felt, well, ahem, much older than you. You told me that you’d gone into the Navy nearly two years ago. If you went in after high school, then I put you at 20. 21, tops. Which makes me, well, considerably older. Ugh. I don’t want to think about that.
We changed our watches to EDT, and commented on the brevity of the flight, arriving nearly twenty minutes earlier than scheduled. You shared that you were headed to a connecting flight to Atlanta. Wha? Pensacola to Charlotte and back down to Atlanta? Yeah, you said, it was the closest airport to the little town in the bottom of North Carolina where you are from. You were going to surprise your sister, who turns fifteen this year. You had a 10-day leave before shipping out (do they still call it that if you’re flying out?) to San Diego, where you’ll be stationed for two years, working on the flight deck.
I told you it sounded incredibly impressive. You responded that it was also very dangerous. That there were days when you wondered why you ever joined up, and days when you absolutely loved it. Hmm, I mused, I guess it’s like that with most things. Certainly I can say the same about ministry, friend.
I shared then that I was also making a surprise visit, to my niece for her high school graduation. I haven’t seen her or her sister or my sister-in-law in probably three years, maybe even longer.*
We finally taxied to a stop and waited patiently until it was cleared out enough for us to actually have somewhere to go. I knew I’d be hoofing it to make my connecting flight, so I turned to you and said, I hope you have a great visit. You said simply, me too.
It wasn’t nearly all that I wanted to say. The first thing I had said to you in the air was to thank you for your service. Good Lord, what you must see and do. As we were preparing to deplane, I wanted to thank you again. To ask you if you were okay (since you had seemed nervous). To tell you to be safe. To enjoy the time with your sister and whatever other members of your family you might see. I sensed the slightest bit of uncertainty about you, like maybe you only mentioned your sister because there is some underlying tension with other family members. So, I would also say good luck to you. I might even go so far as to ask if you are a faithful person. If you’re not, that’s okay. I’m not judging you. I do hope that you would become so one day, so that you might be less likely to know loneliness or feel adrift.** If you are faithful, then I would have reminded you to be in touch with the good Lord often and be thankful for what you can count as good in your life.
I hope your sister is thrilled to see you. I hope you are able to catch up and have fun and talk and just hang out. Be safe. Be smart. And thank you for what you have given your life over to. For as long as you do it. You have my utmost respect. And may the good Lord watch over you and keep you and be merciful unto you.
Grace and peace from the older woman (gawd) that sat next to you, watching Ted Lasso on the free in-flight WiFi.
*It turns out that it’s been nearly five years. How can that possibly be? Ugh. Life.
**I’m not naive enough to believe that people who follow Jesus never get lonely or feel asea in all the rigors of life. I am hopeful enough that we are all able to reach a point where we, by God’s good grace, can lean into the One who holds us through it all.