“Snakes on Planes,” column for June 14, 2016

The announcement came as no surprise: The flight to Las Vegas was completely full and all roll-a-board bags for passengers in the last two boarding groups would need to be checked.

Milling about the gate like a herd of cattle at a salt lick, the crowd mooed its displeasure. Seems nobody wants to spend an hour in Vegas hanging out in baggage claim, least of all folks in town for a wild weekend.

To me, it didn’t matter. I live in Vegas. My roll-a-board (with a can of hairspray too big to carry on) was already checked.

Finally, we began boarding, squeezing into seats that for the next five hours would keep us cozied up to people we had never met and would probably never see again. Luckily, I had an aisle seat. I get claustrophobic in the middle or by the window. Flying is phobic enough as it is.

A big guy sat by the window talking on his phone. A little woman took the middle seat.  “It’s freezing in here,” she said.

I closed the vent over my head. She closed hers and looked at the guy on his phone. He kept talking. When she reached over to close his vent, he shot up a hand. “Don’t!” he snapped.

She didn’t. She just glared at him, then rolled her eyes at me.

Meanwhile, a few rows back, two people were talking and laughing, growing louder and more profane, unaware or uncaring of children nearby. After an especially graphic outburst, I caught the eye of the young man who’d shouted it, and with my best “I’m not mad at you, but you need to watch your mouth” mad-mom-smile, I whispered, “Hey, buddy, there are little people on board.”

He ignored me. It was going to be that kind of flight.

I had just spent four days at the Frederick Buechner Writer’s Workshop at Princeton University, attending seminars that challenged my writing and chapel services that fed my soul. I’d loved meeting people of various ages and backgrounds, talking in depth about writing, about our lives and our faith.

On the last day of the workshop I had dinner with four women I now call friends. We talked and laughed for hours, sharing our stories, baring our souls. It was a beautiful thing.

I’ve seen that kind of trust and vulnerability come shining through time and again in small groups or one on one. I’m sure you’ve seen it, too. Given a chance to confide to a gracious listening ear, most of us will gladly open a vein.

Stories hunger to be heard. Listening feeds the soul for both the teller and the told.

It was a lot to process in four days. I left Princeton exhausted, but inspired. One hour into the flight home, with f-bombs exploding behind me, I was growing dangerously near to what my grandmother would call “losing my religion.”

So I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and began to pray. Silently, of course. Praying out loud on airplanes tends to make people tighten their seatbelts.

I prayed for my family and friends. For new friends I’d just met. For people on the plane, some I liked more than others.

Suddenly I heard a glorious sound: The peace that begins where profanity ends. Mr. Foulmouth had fallen asleep. Or passed out. And my seatmates _ two complete strangers who had snarled at each other over a stupid air vent? They were snoring like woodchippers, blissfully unaware that her head was resting on his shoulder and his chin was on her cheek.

I wish you could’ve seen them.

Were they dreaming? Let’s hope so. What would we be without our dreams?

I dream of a world in which, differences be damned, we will treat one another with respect. Not because we all deserve to be respected, but because we all deserve to be respectful.

Do you dream that dream, too? I hope so. Maybe one day we can all dream it together.

Comments

  1. Kate Sciacca says:

    Just returned from a family reunion in Montana… Even though we live in the “real” Nevada ? we always have to fly from Reno to Vegas to get anywhere else…. What IS it with those Vegas fliers???? Geesh…. You made a great decision to pray ?

  2. Joy M. Rodda says:

    Sharon, I’ve wanted to contact you for a long time. I LOVE your column and yet only today realize that it must be on Wednesdays that your column appears in the AR Democrat Gazette. I recall the one about a special space/place where you could rock your baby and look out a window at a wonderful tree. And today I read about your having gone to a writing workshop with the name Frederick Buechner’s name associated with it. WOW! And I note on your blog that your column appears in the Winston-Salem, NC Journal. Yea! My husband and I live on Beaver Lake in NW AR, but soon will be moving to Winston-Salem because we are aging and will need, we guess, to be near family. I thank you for your words that resonate with me!

  3. Linda says:

    Praying in times like you describe always gives me peace. We can’t control others but we can help ourselves with talking to God about it. I just hope that someday those who annoy others by their language will see the light. Thanks for another special column.

  4. GIRL YOU DID GREAT, I WOULD HAVE LOST IT, PRAYERS TO GOD IS ALL WE REALLY NEED IN TIMES LIKE THIS. NEXT TIME I WILL THINK OF MY FRIEND THAT I MEET ONCE IN BRISTOL, TN……SHARON RANDALL WHEN SHE WAS IN TOWN FOR A FEW DAYS BEFOR MOTHERS DAY .

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