I flew to St. Martin on the day of the presidential inauguration. Leaving my home at four in the morning with a negative six degrees Fahrenheit freezing my bare ankles, I drove forty-five minutes south and parked my car in Remote Lot A. Thankfully, the airport shuttle had just arrived at the shelter. A young woman and I boarded, the only two in the vehicle, sitting across from each other, shivering.
“Where are you headed?” I asked.
“Washington D.C. And you?”
“Someplace much warmer!” I laughed. “St. Martin in the West Indies. Why D.C.? Business?”
“I’m participating in the Women’s March tomorrow.”
“Oh! That’s great! Isn’t it wonderful that we can do such things in our country?” She agreed as I tried to picture her with a vagina on her head.
We parted ways at the departures curb, wishing each other well. I thought about how our passions lead us, not just politically—how we’re all infused with an energy propelling us forward toward things we hold most dear. In my case, I felt no need to fly myself to Washington and protest. Still, she and I, two women bound by flesh and blood, yet separate in philosophy? We are just two of millions. Two women. We were able to converse kindly and wish each other well as we went our separate ways to different destinations.
After getting frisked by a latex-gloved TSA woman, I found my gate and boarded my plane. My travel companion for the next couple hours would be a 20-something young woman traveling to Ft. Lauderdale, her first flight by herself, I learned right away. She was a bit worried, given the terrorist (?) attack at that airport the week prior. I tried to reassure her. I have flown plenty.
Emily and I sat in two side-by-side seats on the left wing of that Boeing 757, mine on the aisle. I struck up a conversation with her lasting the entire two hours of our flight to Atlanta. We talked about education, her college major, and how she hoped to work in an inner-city Milwaukee school—to help make a difference—to help kids get out of the ghetto—out of poverty. I talked about my past as an elementary school teacher, my experience in inner-city schools, purposefully chosen for the same reason as hers. We talked hopes and dreams, politics and God. I discovered she was more left-leaning than I, just like our seats on that plane. At the end of our flight, my new friend and I walked into the Atlanta airport. Before she headed to the left and I to the right, she asked . . .
“Can I give you a hug? You’ve been so kind to talk with me and listen to me.”
Kind of took my breath away. Kind of expected a cold shoulder. Then again, Jesus says love trumps all.
“Sure! You’ve been so kind not to wrestle me to the floor of the plane and punch me for having some differing political views than you on education and all!”
We embraced, pulling each other close. I gave her my card, saying I’d love to help however I might.
And then we went our separate ways, me praying a silent prayer of blessing over her.
As I walked to the gate of my next flight, I thanked God for having had my left-wing seat, flying together with another of some differing views toward the same destination. I was grateful we landed safely, both wings of our plane intact, both able to continue on, both able to hug with genuine affection.
My next flight from Atlanta to St. Martin sat me on the right-wing. This time I was far to the right of the aisle, scrunched by the window with two others to my left, still on the right side of the aisle. I’ll admit, I was rather uncomfortable in my extreme position. I hate being pinned in. I hate being responsible for pulling that shade up or down. Do people want to see or not? What if what I want isn’t what the others want? What if the light is too bright for another’s sensitive eyes? What if the dark is too dark for another’s need for light? (Oh good Lord, I need my good therapist!)
Anyway, during our four-hour flight, I watched the presidential inauguration along with my other row mates (inmates?), both of whom were glued to Fox News. (I tried to find a more centrist news network.)
My two new friends and I, flying high, most surely hoping for a safe landing?
We talked politics like in my former flight. I found that these two were true Trump-ers (from Michigan, no less!) and way more to the right than I. Yet we had a friendly conversation about our views, our beliefs and why we believed as we do. Though not as warm and friendly as my left-wing travel mate on my former flight, these two were polite and welcoming of differing opinions.
As our 757 approached St. Martin, we lost our television reception. The inauguration went black. I would be in the dark for the next week with no Internet in my lodging on the French side of St. Martin. I hoped in my time disconnected that people might find some common ground—some common decency—some mutual respect, regardless of preferred political wing.
I was wrong.
After a week, I traded the warmth of sun and liquid turquoise, of fish swimming below the winds in calm waters, of people speaking gracefully on sands in groups of differing colors and languages and opinions, some completely naked. I traded all this Adam and Eve bliss for muddied waters and divisions and contemptuous words. I traded an island paradise in the gentle winds of the West Indies for a continental divide where people continue to fight—waging verbal wars, assassinating characters in real-life as if those they speak against have no real life created in the image of God and no real feelings inside their God-created hearts. I came home to social media feeds where brothers and sisters in Christ are gorging in a feeding frenzy of self-righteous haughtiness, intent on defending positions rather than bowing low to listen. And all this has caused me to pause and ask . . .
What shall I say, if anything?
What shall I do, if anything?
I’ve been silent for three weeks, here on this blog, this space where I hope and pray God is glorified.
Of course, I could and should pray.
But I also wonder if there’s something more . . .
Frankly, it would be easier and safer to shut up and sit down, imposing a gag order on myself (no Senate rule need rule me because I hope my God alone rules me).
But I wonder if sometimes the refusing to stand—the refusing to speak—is the worst of our sins because silence can allow malignant to metastasize.
I don’t know. Really, I don’t. I humbly confess my severe inadequacy of understanding the whole complicated mess of humanity.
I’ve just been praying a lot and grieving a lot and wondering about the whole lot of us humans.
Is Jesus pleased with us? With me? With you? In this moment?
Is Jesus pleased with the way we who profess to follow Him—the Way, the Truth, the Life—are living and relating today—in this momentary slice of eternity?
Oh God, how have we come to such a place as this where even your elect, those of us who proclaim you as Savior and LORD feel nothing for the hurt we cause by our judgments and our refusal to listen and learn—our refusal to seek Your ways before our ways—Your thoughts before our thoughts—Your wants before our wants? Have mercy on us and help us!
My return home to Milwaukee took two flights. Again, my assigned seats—one on the left wing and one on the right wing.
This time, I was alone—no other human in a seat in my row. I had more room. I could stretch out. I could be me. Move however I wanted. Didn’t have to interact with one other God-made soul. Didn’t have to discover I disagreed or agreed with any other God-made human being!
I was alone.
On my own island.
In my own row.
On my own wing. Of a plane.
First flight—left wing.
Second flight—right wing.
And then I realized . . .
For all my freedom to be me on both wings—to spread out and fly high as I pleased . . .
I felt lonely.
Because I’m not used to flying high alone. I want the companionship of those on my left and those on my right. I want the interaction of those walking straight down the center aisle.
And so . . .
I got up out of my comfortable seat on the wing.
I walked down the aisle. I entered the restroom and let go of my waste, praying for courage.
Then I headed up the aisle, past my wing-seat and took a seat on the left, closer to the nose.
I wondered what would happen. Would I be met with silence? Contempt? Rejection?
I pushed past my fears. Sat down. Had a nice chat. Even talked politics, there on the left wing of the same plane. Nothing like what I had feared. Maybe because I was more interested in listening for understanding? I don’t know.
And then, I got up. Walked across the aisle and sat in a seat on the right wing. Introduced myself. Had a nice chat. Talked politics. Wanted to learn. Wanted to understand. Challenged some thinking by giving some of my own thoughts. No bombs went off. The plane wasn’t blown apart. Both wings stayed put. I was pleased. And relieved.
Being sky-high, both going and coming, I learned that one can have genuine connection about the most important thing God gives us all—the ability to make a human connection by making connections major and differences minor.
Our plane landed gently, safely—both wings attached—the whole plane of humanity alive and unharmed, going our own ways in the end. Even with some hugging before departing.
Is it not possible for us to board the great human flight of godliness and lay down our differences just enough to cross the aisle, smile, share some of God’s love, and land this tough metal bird in a paradise, or at least as close as we can come before Christ?
My heart aches for this grace, given and received. My mind still believes in possibilities.