Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Power of One

I recently went on a business trip, and learned firsthand "the power of one."

I was in my little hotel at Venice Beach, thirsty for my quota of soda. (Those who know me, know that I seldom am seen without a fizzy beverage in hand.) I reached into my wallet to grab a $1, but for some unknown reason (I know it now), I grabbed a $20 and decided to get change at the desk.

As I walked down the stairs and rounded the corner, the front desk clerk and another gentleman (I am assuming a guest) stopped their discussion abruptly, and the only word I heard was "Jesus." They both stared, in a silence that could have woken the neighbors. I approached the desk and asked for change.

The clerk broke his silence by looking at the other man and saying "She's a Christian...let's ask her."

Well, my there was a lump in my throat, and I couldn't imagine what question was going to be posed to me. I am neither qualified nor inclined to get into theological discussions, as my knowledge in that area leaves much to be desired. Without going into all the details (that's a whole other blog in itself...) the question was about marriage. This desk clerk had suffered a terrible blow and was clearly in pain over the state of his marriage. I offered some encouraging words -- the only things I could say that wouldn't be patronizing and assuming since I knew very little about the situation. His eyes filled with tears, he grabbed my hand, and said "Thank you...God sent you to me just now." Ahh, the power of that $1 bill.

The next day, we had a couple of meetings to attend before trying to catch a 1:00pm flight home. At noon, the other lady on our trip and I were concerned that we would not make it to LAX in time. We still needed to get gas, return the rental and then check in. But our male counterpart assured us that there was plenty of time...we were needlessly in a rush. So we made our stops, got to the airport and waited in line for the self check-in. Our unhurried man friend went 1st. Waiting for the next available check-in screen, my lady traveling friend and I went next...only to find out that we were literally 1 minute late to check in for our flight and would have to wait 1 hour to catch the next one. (I kid you not -- the policy at LAX is to be there at least 40 minutes in advance or they will give away your seats...we checked in 39 minutes before the flight...1 minute late.)

So we waved our male friend away on his 1:00pm flight, and she and I had a nice lunch together. And as our flight time approached, we meandered to the gate...only to wait. And wait..and wait. Inexplicably, our flight was not boarding even though we were scheduled to DEPART at was now 1:55 and we had not even gotten ON the plane.

Our groups were called and we walked down the tunnel to board...only to be stopped again. No explanation. Just standing in the walkway exchanging puzzled glances with the strangers around us.

Again, we move forward, and as we enter the main cabin, there is a small African American boy -- whom we would later learn was only 4 years old -- crying in a seat and talking to one of the pilots.

We managed to put our bags away and take our seats, when a male flight attendant saw the boy and ushered him back to his REAL seat...directly behind my friend.

He cried...he wailed...he slithered out of his seat...shrieking that he wanted his mother.

I turned around in my seat to talk to him, and couldn't understand him when I asked his name. I eventually learned it was Jonathan. I coaxed and cajoled...hastening him to buckle his seat belt. I might as well have been commanding a cat to sit for as much good as it did.

Shortly, his fated seat partner arrived carrying a Burger King bag and drink. Jonathan immediately appropriated it and tore into the bag. My motherly instinct kicked in and I promptly told him that it didn't belong to him -- it belonged to this man, and it is his lunch.

Again, to no avail, my words fell on deaf ears...and the Burger King meal was vanquished in short order. I reached into my bag and grabbed a granola bar I had stashed for the trip, and as I turned around to offer it, I saw that the other passengers looking on had taken their snacks and were handing it to him as well. (Let's all pray he likes fruit & granola!)

Well, suffice it to say that Jonathan will get his own blog entry as well -- once I recover from the recurring nightmares! But right now, we will get back to the power of one...

One hour after our scheduled departure, the flight attendant in FIRST class calls me to the front of the plane. It was to ask my opinion on whether or not we could actually take off due to the state of our youngest passenger. Well good grief! I had no idea how to answer that question...and then I told them to be sure and make an announcement to let everyone know that I was not the reason for the late departure! :)

Eventually, we started taxiing down the runway. (And mind you, the state of Jonathan will be discussed at length, but remember that this is a small child, flying alone, screaming and throwing and hitting everyone around him.)

And the flight the air.

I wish I could insert the word "one" in here...but I can't. It was, in fact, a 3 hour flight. Actually, it was a 2.5 hr flight, as we were told later that the pilot was making record worries about fuel conservation when it came to getting Jonathan to his final destination.

As the flight went on, the man next to him and I got dirty looks from those who didn't understand that we weren't with this child..we had just been cosmically assigned to him. We also got looks of sympathy or bewilderment.

At ONE point, I told the gentleman next to Jonathan that I would trade places so he could have a rest. (By this time, his nice custom-made business shirt was covered in milk chocolate.) And I ventured out to take Jonathan to the lav at the back of the plane.

It was then, that ONE comment made all the difference about how I looked at Jonathan. A lady explained that she had talked to Jonathan's mom in the airport. He was flying alone at such a young age because it was a court order resulting from a custody battle. The delay at the beginning was because she had escorted him onto the plane, and was prying herself out of his clutches. He knew he was going to see daddy, but he had no idea it was a ONE way trip.

Jonathan and I walked back to our seats, and we talked the remainder of the trip about his home, his mom, his older brother. We talked about Texas and California. We learned some manners and he exercised them by saying Thank You to the man who had sat with him...I'm Sorry to the flight attendants to whom earlier he had been disrespectful... It was ONE thing that I could do to connect with this little guy, and when he saw the smiles on the recipients faces...he extended his please & thank you & I'm sorry to a broader circle of folks around us. He began to smile as they began to soften in recognition of his efforts.

And then we landed at DFW. They asked for everyone staying at DFW to remain on board so that those who were late or trying to find alternate connecting flights (since we were so late) could make their way out ahead of us.

I sat with Jonathan, and as the people walked by, I remember ONE lady leaning down and saying "You're an Angel."

And I remember ONE man stopping in the aisle, and staring a stare that would only send me to one very hot place if looks indeed could do that. At first I wanted to explain that I wasn't WITH him...that I wasn't responsible for this behavior. But then I realized that this little guy had had no advocate on this plane except for me and the man who originally sat by him. So I sat silently and absorbed his stare. Glad that I could take it on, instead of alternately being directly at a very afraid and excited little boy.

We exited the plane, and I went on to baggage claim...reminding Jonathan that we LIKE California...but that we LOVE Texas. (It's a standing joke at our house about my incurable patriotism toward The Lone Star State...even though I married a Californian.) I doubt that I will ever see him or his dad or any of the other people on that plane again. Our journey together was limited to that ONE flight.

Yeah, it was only ONE TRIP...
but it was made significant by a $1 bill,
then ONE minute,
followed by ONE hour,
and ONE kid.


At 6:16 PM, Blogger BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

What a beautiful story, Whit.

I know, just from your posts, that your beautiful soul comes through your eyes and being.

You were in Venice Beach, CA? Dang! Wish I would have known.


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