…sometimes takes the form of an ice cold glass of water.
Yesterday S and I flew home from a wonderful visit with my parents and my best friends from college. Part trip home, part girls’ weekend, it was lovely and relaxing from start to finish.
Well, I take that back. (Partly.)
The finish – a solo plane ride with a squirmy toddler whose cheap parents refuse to buy him his own ticket until the airline officially declares he is Too Old For A Lap – was far from lovely and relaxing. It was exactly what you picture when you pass That Harried Woman in the airport juggling a child, a diaper bag, a laptop bag, a stroller, and what’s left of her sanity.
I was dreading the flight all day. S is a great traveler, but it’s always stressful to fly solo with him. And when the lap he’s supposed to occupy for the duration of the flight is growing smaller by the minute, it makes for cramped quarters. I sent up prayers for a kind seatmate and a quick flight.
50% ain’t bad. The gentleman who squeezed his rather large limbs into the window seat next to me smiled kindly when S belted out “E-I-E-I-OOOOOOO!” throughout the entire boarding process. But as for the short flight, yesterday’s tumultuous Midwestern storms brought a reroute of the flight pattern that added on time just as I was wishing the descent would start any second. C’est la vie.
Yet despite my dread, the flight turned out to be more than bearable because of one exceedingly gracious flight attendant. Kid you not, this woman may be the closest thing I ever get to an angel this side of paradise.
She saw me futilely fanning myself with the safety instruction guide as we waited for 20 minutes in 85 degree heat for the airplane door to close. And without a word, she whisked her way down the aisle and handed me a heavenly glass of ice water. Here I thought drinks before takeoff were a privilege reserved only for first class, but this woman broke every stewardess stereotype.
She stopped by every 15 minutes to ask how we were doing. She brought us extra pretzels for S to throw on the floor. She called him by name and took him on walks up to the galley to get cookies. She brought us towelettes to wash our grubby hands after S cleared through every snack in the diaper bag. And then at the end of the flight, she held his sweaty, crying self (because of course he would fall asleep in my arms 10 minutes before landing) so that I could retrieve our stroller from the gate-side check and bring it back down the jetway to pick him up at the door of the plane.
This woman was amazing. Starting with that simple glass of ice water, she wiped away all my stereotypes and cynicism about airline travel and customer service.
The best God-moments are unexpected, even shocking in their dissonance. Yet as they make us pause and slow down, breathe deep and reflect, they always hold something of the Familiar in them. Aha, we think, I have known this before. Even if it is a stranger who surprises us, the face of God is so vivid in that kind of generosity and humility. We can never put a finger on what it was exactly, but we leave realizing that we have brushed up against the best that humanity has to offer.
“The glory of God is the human person fully alive,” wrote Irenaeus back in the 2nd century. Isn’t it pure gift, those rare moments and odd chances when we encounter that kind of aliveness – the way another person lives out their vocation to the fullest – and it leaves us better than we were before?