Norris Burkes: The plain purpose of the plane ride
The one thing you never want to hear your pilot tell you at 30,000 feet is, “We have a slight problem.” Yet that's exactly what I heard the pilot say about 25 years ago during a late-night return flight.
His announcement interrupted a conversation I'd begun three hours earlier with my seatmate. Knowing I was a pastor, he confessed how he'd let his family and his spiritual life slip away during his climb up the corporate ladder. When he wondered aloud if there would be a time when he could renew that spiritual connection, I responded:
“Why not renew it now?”
“Now? Here on the plane?” he said.
“Yes,” I said, “God isn't a bit embarrassed.”
He told me he'd think about it and we let conversation go elsewhere.
After finishing our peanuts, the pilot made his startling announcement. He said we'd been circling our airport for 15 minutes because an indicator light suggested our nose landing gear might not be locked.
But he assured us that emergency vehicles were establishing a greeting party. And with that, the flight attendants reviewed our party favors — oxygen masks and escape slides.
The passengers were chatty for the next 10 minutes as my seatmate confessed that he'd had a busy professional life and maybe it was time for him to be thinking more about God.
As we leaned forward in a crash position, I had no doubt that it was time. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw an armada of emergency vehicles whizzing past us before we slowed for an uneventful stop.
As the turbines softened and the clapping stopped, my fellow passenger asked me if I thought there was some sort of higher purpose in the two of us traveling together.
I'd like to tell you that I gave him a sage answer, but I was too busy rooting through my carry-on to replace my sweat-soaked shirt. Most of my answer was simply a nervous laugh and, “Yeah, well, maybe.”
When my wife met me at the gate, we hugged just a bit tighter as she asked about the firetrucks.
“They came to meet our plane,” I said.
She bounced a look off me that went into the next county. The thought that she'd nearly seen my plane cartwheel through the local rice fields brought some fairly instant tears between us.
Years have passed since that incident, and I can't tell you if my seatmate ever found a “purpose” for that little scare. The only purpose I can tell you is that it helped me see how I'd been living my life straining to make a future for my young family. I hadn't been thinking about how today was yesterday's future.
I suppose that when you're young, you spend a great deal of time living in the future, and when you're old, you tend to spend too much time living in the past. The problem with living at the address of “future” or “past” is that there is never a way to relive the past, and my plane ride assured me I could never be confident of the future.
So these days, as much as I can, you can find me right here in the present. And as far as I can see, that was the plain purpose of that plane ride.
Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist. Visit thechaplain.net.