Thursday, March 16, 2006

Character Sketch Part 1

Van Driver –

Humpty-dumpty man with a round body and rounded face.  Straggly white hair, combed over from right to left, covering his bald plate.  He has crinkled eyes, twinkling blue, and rolls out of the parking lot van with a booming, cheery greeting.  We make a joke about how my parking space has no number … and I board the van forgetting to close my front door.  I try to blame it on flying on a Monday instead of a Sunday … and the conversation starts.

He tells me there was a lady last week who got all the way to the terminal, handed him the work-order (‘cause they’ll wash your car, change your oil, etc while you’re gone) as she exited the van.  There he stood with an empty envelop and no keys, because she’d locked them in the car and left them in the ignition … “So your not doing to bad”, says he.

On the drive to the terminal he volunteers he was a long haul trucker in earlier days, and before that was a sheriff’s deputy in Seattle before that.  He went on to regal me with stories about being pulled over by his buddies every time he came through town, in Seattle.  He got a kick out of re-telling these stories – I smiled politely … but on the inside I was thinking, “If that were me, I’d be SOOO pissed”.  Maybe once being pulled over and handcuffed as a joke would be funny.  But repeatedly, and multiple times in the same day?  -Not so much.”

Airport Lounge –

Post 9/11 my flying behavior has changed – like most everyone else.  Pre 9/11, my goal was to arrive at an airport about 5 minutes before boarding began.  Use curb-side check-in and go straight to the gate, trying to time my arrival as they called my zone.  Now, I’m still giving myself the full two-hour pre-departure cushion, to make sure I really make it through security.  Consequently I now sit for a good hour at a gate before boarding the plane.  Since I’m a people watcher, this is good, it helps off-set my, “let’s get on with it” impatient nature.  

This day, as I sit in the lounge, I observe the old lady who comes to sit across from me.  I carry out my observations from behind my laptop so as to avoid eye-contact.  I giggle to see her carefully wipe down her seat before sitting.  Then she makes small noises and little proclamations to herself. “Now, I’ll just sit here ‘till they call my plane.”  “Why doesn’t the gate sign match my ticket, I wonder?” “Hurmpf – that shoe-shine man’s music is too loud.”  Each statement is followed by a look at her nearby neighbors – hoping someone will engage her in conversation – which none of the world weary business travelers are willing to do.  A few big sigh’s later, and she gets up and moves off to another section of the lounge – where more of “her-kind” are sitting, to chatter to her hearts content.

I continue with my covert observation – only to be interrupted by the shrill ringing of an alarm, and honking of a siren.  Casually I look up and around, and no-one is exhibiting the slightest change in behavior.  I dip my head back down to my laptop, only to wonder a few minutes later why the sound is still echoing through the terminal.  Again, I look around to gage the behavior of my fellow travelers.  No one is abandoning their seats, no one is heading toward an exit.  Down goes my head again – only to pop back up after another 2 minutes or so crawl by … still the shrill ring and “auoogaaa” of the horn rippling through the terminal.  “Aren’t people funny, I think to myself?”  “Clearly someone has pushed through an emergency exit, and yet, the alarm is still sounding and no-one seems to care.”  I note other passengers are STILL talking on their phones, and no-one seems the least bit concerned so I go back to my laptop.

Unexpectedly, 3 firemen walk by – and two cops.  A fellow passenger says, “Are ya’ gonna shut it off?” One of the firemen reply, “We can’t, until we get the okay.”  Suddenly, I’m much more alert to my surroundings … “Get the ok? Why do they need an ok, if someone just pushed through the emergency exit?” … Then … from the corner of my eye, I catch a flash of red light … as my head swivels toward this distraction, it registers in my brain, “Oh my GOD, those are FIRE TRUCKS surrounding the jet way next to where I’m to depart!, the flasing red pops of light emanating from the revolving cherry-drops on the vehicles”  Now I’m wondering why no-one is crowding the windows to see what’s going on … “Must not be too important if there are no gawkers”, I reason to myself.   I follow this reasoning by a few hunting-dog like sniffs to insure there’s no smoke smell, and I’m not going to be on the nightly news saying, “Well, I heard the sirens, I saw the fire-trucks, but you know I didn’t KNOW there was a problem!”

Passenger 3-A

After years of flying, I have become one of those travelers who puts up the invisible wall when sitting in my seat.  I don’t mind sharing a “Hello”, or a comic observation about the awkwardness of the infrequent flyer who fails to understand the name of the game is, “get to your seat, sit-down, and let the rest of the plane board.”  But I try not to engage in too much conversation, because really, no one ever becomes friends with the stranger they share a multi-hour-long flight with.  (Or at least I have never become friends with anyone I’ve ever chatted with).

Monday from my starting point to Charlotte, I slept.  From Charlotte to Augusta, I talked!  As I sat in my seat, on this tiny, tiny, little plane (22-passengers), the man next to me engaged me in conversation.  Turns out he’s from Colorado.  I expressed envy that he lives where it’s so “open” – and out west.  He asks about me, I tell him where I currently live, but that originally I’m a “western-girl” myself.  Next comes the exchange about jobs… he works for the IRS, me in software.  Interests – both of us like red-wine and scotch.  Then I politely pick up a trade newsletter – fully intending to let him off the “conversation hook”.  But it doesn’t work that way.  He asks about hobbies and interests – we comment on both of us being red-heads.

As I start chatting about my life and interest, I throw out that I teach Sunday School … and how ironic it is that I am a teacher.  Not because I don’t know how to teach, but because I’m so not the bible scholar.  Really, I was uncomfortable with the topic – because I hate getting stuck in “religious” conversations.  I’m not an evangelist … if someone asks, I’ll tell, but …

And I’m not a “debater”.   I know what I believe and why I believe it, but I couldn’t build a “legal” case for my position that would stand the inquisition.  Besides, being able to debate theology doesn’t mean you are walking the walk … or living the life.  (IMHO)

My seat mate began to question me about my Sunday school class.  What age children did I teach?  “Oh, not children – I say with horror!  I team-teach in an adult class.”  He wants to know how I decide what to teach, and why I teach.  I say the team picks a book or topic – and then we all take turns. I like teaching because I like engaging the rest of the class in discussion.  I also told him, “I’m the analogy girl.”  I try to find different ways to illustrate the lesson – and I try to make sure my images appeal to the men in the class – by talking about tools, business concepts, fishing and sports.

After a brief lull, when I’m kicking myself for saying even that much about church, he turns to me and asks me if I’d like to join him for dinner and a glass of wine when we land.  Politely I decline (secretly horrified because why would ANYONE want to have dinner with me?!) telling him that I’m not staying in Augusta, but have another hours drive southwest to get to my destination.

Then he turns to me and says, “I came back to the church in my 30’s, but I’ve really been struggling for the last couple of years.  I don’t “feel” God in my life.  I don’t know why He’s not there.  I’m becoming very discouraged.  I don’t think He’s angry with me, I don’t think I’ve let Him down.  But I just can’t seem to “find” Him these days.”

Well … as you all know … that’s the same boat I’m in.  So we talked.  The man who doesn’t like to fly in small planes, and the girl who doesn’t engage fellow travelers in conversation, carried on a 45 minute conversation about God.  I shared with him what I’d recently read about God being near to us.  I said I thought that God was always near … but that sometimes He shields himself from us.  Not because we’ve done something to displease Him, but because He wants us to MATURE in our relationship with Him.  

I spoke about Job.  I said on a personal level I really struggled with the story of Job.  Originally I thought the story was one of punishment – “God the vengeful”.  But Methodist theology is about “God the loving”.  “How do you reconcile a story about a faithful man who looses everything with the notion of a loving God?” I asked myself.  This just doesn’t make sense.  It must be about “God the vengeful” – or “God the Tester.”  But those ideas fall apart to when examined in light of “God the Loving”.  Then I told my fellow sojourner that I just realized the story about Job was a story about MATURITY.  

It’s why God is quite in my life right now. He’s tired of the “four-year old” me.  The me that focuses only on “me”, always wanting to know, “why?”, “how-come?”, “but why?” and “why me?”.  He’s tired of me “calling-up” to ramble on-and-on about my discouragements – and then my REFUSAL to seek out His response, listen to His reply, and enter into an “adult” relationship with Him.

I believe that’s why God shielded himself from Job.  Not because Job was a four-year-old like me, but because God wanted Job to have a deeper relationship with God. He wanted Job to develop those deeper resources and reassurances that God was God.  Job passed the test.  It tells us that no matter what happened in his life, Job kept “Praising God”.  Not asking why, not begging for attention, not asking for reassurance that God was really God.  But praising God for all that Job had in his life … including his relationship with God.’

After I spewed that out, I was aghast!  It was pretty revealing, heavy stuff for a plane ride, if you ask me.  And then God revealed himself to me.  Right there in the plane!  My companion, Chris, turned to me, looked deep in my eyes and said, “Thank you. I needed to hear that.  I’ve been struggling with this for so long, but I think you’re right.  God has used you!”

So, “Yippy me!”  I think I passed a test and got the gold star from God.

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