We have the possibility of being free agents of fate,
the random representatives of hope in the world.
Travelling alone, I often rely on the kindness of strangers. They are the problem-solvers, the direction-givers, the staff who go out of their way. I was reminded recently that when you are alone traveling through the world, you yourself have rare opportunities to turn the tables and pay real attention to those strangers around you.
Not long ago, on a plane to Kansas City, the young man sharing the row with me slipped me a note and asked me to read it when I got off the plane. (OK, this could be good or really bad. I haven’t been handed a note since 6th grade and that one was not at all encouraging.)
The note was very simple, written on a page of paper he’d borrowed from me in the air. He said, “Thank you for the conversation. I needed that more than you can know. I wish you and your family a happy holiday.”
I was no angel of the airways here. Actually, the reason I chose the seat doesn’t speak well of me. It was going to be a fairly full flight on Southwest and I had some important reading to do en route. As I went down the aisle, I spotted this really big, imposing young guy in the window seat of an otherwise empty row. I’m thinking – this guy is NFL-size, really big, scary big. So, with me on the aisle – traveling with the laptop, the notes and the folders, I look like a fidgety, uptight nightmare of a seat mate – no one, unless forced, would choose the middle seat between us. (I was right.)
After takeoff, we talked a little and he told me that he was moving from his home in Kansas to another city, one he’d just visited. It was a required move for his employment.He was worried and had never lived away from his home and his family. I work with a church in that city and had heard some surprisingly encouraging things about the city, even given its economic woes. We talked the climate of the area, the bright spots, the turn-arounds going on. The conversation was light – no advice or deep thoughts – but it was a good connection and it passed the time. My only gift to him was my presence.
The spiritual practice I was reminded of is attentiveness. When we travel with our family and friends, we turn to each other. Sharing the experience is a big benefit of traveling together. When we are alone, we are present in a different way. We have the possibility of being free agents of fate, the random representatives of hope in the world.
It brings to mind the quote from Macrina Wiederkehr, “Remind yourself often, ‘I am pure capacity for God; I can be more.’ ”