I started to settle into my seat for the second leg of the journey to the UK. I said hello to the lady next to me. It’s good to greet someone with whom you’ll be sharing a fairly intimate space for over 12 hours. I was in the window seat, I’d most likely be climbing past this woman in the middle of the night section. I wanted to have at least said hello before I clambered past.
“are you travelling away from home or back home?” I asked.
“please don’t react when I tell you this, or I’ll start crying,” she replied in a gentle American accent, softly spoken. “I was in the States meeting friends but I got a call a few hours ago to say that my boyfriend back in London has been killed in an accident.” Her eyes began to fill with tears. “Please don’t say anything nice”
We talked a lot over the flight, she with the help of some sleeping tablets slept for a good time. Which was one of the things she needed.
I was struck that on the first leg of the flight I’d sat next to a man who was returning to the States after being in new Zealand just for 4 days for his aunt’s funeral. “she was more like my mother” He was asleep before we took off and I was moved to a different seat as my inflight entertainment was broken so we never got to talk more.
The seat I was moved to was a business class seat – they apologized for the inconvenience. I laughed, that sort of inconvenience is always one I can cope with. Air New Zealand really know how to do comfort and customer service – that first flight was amazing and I slept really well on the flatbed in business. I enjoyed the comfort and benefitted from the sleep.
But on this second flight I prayed for this woman that in the midst of the pain and grief she would know God’s hand at work. We chatted more over breakfast, we laughed a little over various details of our lives, we talked about famous people we’d met, about the absurdities of international travel, about her work for a global company leading teams in the UK, Germany, Japan and America.
We also spoke of Jesus – of his presence and power in the midst of sorrow, suffering and difficulty. She spoke of her religious background “I reached out to religion and all I found was guilt and rules”. We chatted some more. I was acutely aware of wanting to offer real comfort without using this incredibly vulnerable moment in her life.
I offered her the Bible I’ve been carrying as a gift; “sometime in the next few months, when you need light in the darkness, you can turn to the words of the author of life for hope and truth.” I explained that I pray before I travel for whoever I’ll sit alongside. She said she thought God had been at work sitting us together and thanked me for the gift.
God’s power and presence, truth and glory – relevant in comfort and in grief, even at 32000 feet.