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 twenty-five years ago during my 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 ever be a time when he could renew that spiritual connection, I responded with a question.
“Why not renew it now?”
“Now? Here on the plane?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said, “God isn’t a bit embarrassed.”
He told me he’d think about it and we both let conversation migrate elsewhere.
After our finishing our last peanut bag, the pilot made his startling announcement. He said we’d been circling our airport for the last fifteen minutes because an indicator light suggested that our nose landing gear might not be locked.
However, he assured us that emergency vehicles were establishing a greeting party. And with that, the flight attendants reviewed our party favors like oxygen masks and escape slides.
The passengers were fairly chatty for the next ten 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 fire trucks.
“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, national speaker and author of No Small Miracles. He also serves as an Air National Guard chaplain and is board-certified in the Association of Professional Chaplains. You can call him at 321-549-2500, email him at [email protected], visit his website thechaplain.net or write him at P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759.