She was in Seat 24A and she looked like she had lived, but still too young to be a grandmother, yet this was it, she was returning to her home in Calgary from a visit with her daughter and grandson. There was both an empty seat and pleasant conversation between us.
It was the book I was reading that had caught her attention, a book outlining, with some satirical humour, the 10 best ways to destroy your child’s imagination.
She then spoke about her grandson and I shared about my own family and our homes in both Africa and Ontario, how we and the children have been given this sort of Two Lives for the Price of One experience and that I was now flying west to visit a brother who I hadn’t seen for some years.
Then the woman — her name is Heather — turned to watch her movie and I did the same with mine before I gave up on it and opened the pages of a pocket New Testament that I had also tucked in with my reading.
I flipped to the book of John, a book apparently written by a man in the wild as crazy as The Mad Hatter. ‘In the beginning was the Word,’ is how John gets it all rolling. “And the Word was with God. And the Word was God.”
Not long after, spontaneously, surprisingly even to myself, I handed the little Testament to Heather. “Would you let me give me you a gift?” is what I said before she smiled and said yes and took the white pocketbook in her hands.
“It’s changed everything about my life,” I said. “My vocation. My family. Everything.”
It’s the sort of thing that I don’t do very often because it can all come across as a bit too strange, a bit to insincere, even manipulative like say, Bob, in the movie The Big Kahuna.
Bob is a young, clean-cut marketing rep at a convention who, instead of focusing on the task at hand — selling his company’s product — sells Jesus. Bob abandons his obligation and his colleagues for what he sees as the higher good and, in doing so, cheapens his so-called faith to a mere marketing ploy.
And this, too often, is the problem with religious people. It’s all about them and their message and their need to get it out. The hearer just happens to be a convenient opportunity in the room.
But it was unplanned, how I gave this woman in Seat 24A this little white Testament, an act that somehow seemed as natural as one human being offering another a glass of water.
I suggested to her that John is a good place to start. And this is when Heather took it in her hands and said thank you. And soon-after we went our separate ways.
In the coming days I wondered, though, and I told my brother about it and so we watched The Big Kahuna on his widescreen television. It unfolded before us as a sort of live stage-play with Danny Devito and Kevin Spacey speaking both crudely and eloquently, not unlike prophets, big as life in high definition in my brother’s living room while we lounged and ate mixed nuts.
And all I can come up with is this, that maybe the only saving grace in giving a pocket Testament to a stranger on an airplane is that you’d be hard-pressed to find a more unpredictable and irreligious figure than Jesus. And maybe in some strange way, he was there too, maybe in that empty seat that was between Heather and myself, just like maybe he was there in my brother’s living room while we watched The Big Kahuna.
And if he was, he would have made sure that it was all fine, that it was all less about religion or even any message per se, but more about life, and that in this, it was even more than fine … it was all somehow good.