One of the places I know best is the Nashville airport. I’m buds with many of the skycaps and gate agents. I know where the Starbucks is and where to find the most fabulous breakfast burritos ever! Bacon… eggs… potatoes… salsa… yes, please! Though I love those burritos, I must confess, air travel is not my favorite pastime. It can be exhausting and frustrating at times. The other day, for instance, I spent eight hours in Dallas waiting for a delayed connection to Little Rock, when Little Rock is only five hours driving distance from Nashville. (Self-driving car, wherefore art thou?!) I’ve discovered,however, something interesting occurs during almost every trip. I mean, something more interesting than the recurring moment when the TSA agent attempts to carry me through the X-ray machine. It seems I always have at least one encounter which offers me a little more insight into the human spirit.
My airport encounters on the way to Little Rock felt particularly significant. The fun began at curbside, where I met Max, the friendly skycap who walked me through the airport to my plane. (All names have been changed to protect the innocents who unknowingly wandered into this blog.) Max lives in Detroit, but he spends his summers here in Nashville with his dad, who works for Delta. When he finishes college in a couple of years, he plans to follow in his dad’s footsteps and work in the travel industry. Max was already six hours into his day when we met at 10 a.m., but you’d never know it from his charming, sunny disposition.
On our way to the gate, we stopped to chat with several ladies who were on their way to the Amazon to work with Justice and Mercy International, an incredible organization that serves people in need. (Check out there amazing story at www.justiceandmercy.org.) After we’d discussed their exciting upcoming adventures, One of the gals shared with me that she is a music therapist and serves many hospice patients. She told me of one gentleman who, in his final days, asked to hear my music. She said he listened to “If You Want Me To” as he breathed his last. Hearing a story like that would have felt awkward once upon a time, but these days, I’m humbled and moved that my music could play a role in anyone’s life journey, especially at journey’s end.
I wished the ladies a wonderful trip, and Max and I continued our journey to the gate. Max was very inspired by the work our new friends were heading to do, and said he’d like to take a trip where he could serve others – maybe with his church back home. This led to a discussion of churches he should visit while in Nashville, music in churches, music in general, whether I played music, where he could find my music, and how much music is on Spotify . . .
After we scrunched my 80-billion pound suitcase into the overhead bin, Max and I said goodbye, and I told him I hoped to see him on my next trip. (And then I tipped him, in case anyone is concerned.) It was a lovely start to the day, and just enough airport adventure for me, I thought. But it turned out to be only the beginning.
My seatmates on aisle eight were friendly fellas. The guy in the middle seat arrived near the end of boarding and said “Hi, I made it!” when he sat down. His friendliness startled me a little. I smiled and congratulated him. He was out of breath and seemed grateful to have arrived in time. The guy sitting on the aisle asked me about the Braille device I was using. It’s so much fun to share with folks the technological advancements that have had an incredible impact on my life and the lives of many others. I could sing technology’s praises all day, so I’ve had to learn to stop myself after a couple minutes.
After our initial chatter, everyone settled in for the flight. I enjoyed a cup of airline coffee while reading Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. (Side note: How have I never read this book before? It is changing my life!)
The rest of the flight passed without incident. As folks began to deplane, I noticed my neighbor in the middle seat didn’t stand up.
“Do you wait until the end to get off?” he asked me.
“Yep, I usually do, if my connection isn’t too close,” I said.
“Me, too,” he responded. “I have to have a wheelchair. I get so tired after walking just a few feet. I’d never make it to the next gate without one.”
I wondered what his challenge was, but felt it would be intrusive to ask, so instead I said, “Yes, thank goodness for wheelchairs.” He agreed.
“Are you heading somewhere fun?” I inquired.
“Out to Palm Springs,” he returned.
“Oh, that sounds like a great place to visit this time of year,” I said enthusiastically.
“Yes. My brother lives there,” he said. “He has a one-bedroom apartment behind his house, and he’s going to let me live out my days there.”
Whoa. Not what I was expecting. I said something like, “Oh? What are you facing?”
“Colon cancer,” he said, and he began to cry. “Stage IV.”
“Oh wow,” I managed.
“Yeah, it’s tough,” he continued, his voice full of emotion. “And my wife couldn’t bear to watch me die, so she left. I’m just glad I have somewhere to go.”
“Oh, I am so sorry,” was all I could come up with.
In that moment, I wanted to do so many things. I wanted to react calmly. I wanted to hug this man and cry with him. I wanted to share with him the peace and rest that comes in knowing Jesus, and how we don’t have to fear death because He has conquered it. But the flight attendant was headed our way, and I had only seconds. Even if I had had longer, I’m not sure where I would have begun. Would it have been wise to share all my thoughts in this moment with this broken man? I wasn’t sure…
I wanted to avoid saying anything shallow or offering any pat phrases, so I asked if he was on chemo. He said he was, and it was the reason he was so emotional. I told him I’d witnessed the effects of chemo on family members and close friends, and could imagine it must be taking its toll on his body. As we exited the plane, we talked a bit more about the events leading up to his diagnosis and all that had happened since. I asked his name and told him I would be praying for him. Potentially a pat phrase, but I truly meant it. Still, I knew I couldn’t leave the conversation at that.
When I hear a story like Gary’s, I cannot imagine facing cancer without the belief that God is holding my hand through every moment. Or that there is Heaven to hope for. I was stunned by Gary’s candor, and so struck by the truth I wanted him to know, and yet I couldn’t find the words.
I considered the story I’d just heard of the hospice patient. How is it that I can write about God in a song, but get tongue-tied at the thought of sharing my experience with Him in conversation? I thought about my chat with my neighbor on the aisle, and how I’d enthusiastically proclaimed the ways technology makes such a difference in my life every day. Why couldn’t I proclaim the difference God makes in my life every day?
We live in a time when it isn’t popular to say something is “true.” “What is true for you may not be true for me,” is the general feeling. While I believe each of us has a perspective which should be valued, I know some things are unchangeable, regardless of how we feel about them. Truth is truth. Yet I don’t always behave as if I believe that. I don’t want to anger or offend by sharing truth. I certainly don’t want to be considered one of those loud-mouthed, judgmental, ungracious Christians the media likes to tell us about. So sometimes, even though I know speaking truth could potentially bring comfort, healing, and freedom, I struggle to find the words.
As I considered all this on my way up the jetbridge, several questions came to mind. Why am I thinking of myself in this moment? If I believe God truly possesses the power to bring hope to our most hopeless moments, , and offer strength in our darkest hours, wouldn’t I want to share that truth? Wouldn’t it be unloving and unkind not to?
When we got to the top of the jet bridge, we were met by a skycap, who took both of us to our next gates. I was thankful for a few more moments to find the courage to allow Gary and his story to become more than just an occasional passing thought and prayer for me. As I walked behind his wheelchair, I asked if we could keep in touch, and he seemed glad to give me his info. I’m so thankful for the chance to continue our conversation.
Please pray for Gary. For the healing of his body and his spirit. And please pray that I will have opportunities to encourage him and share with him the life-changing, life-giving truth of Jesus. And let’s pray that we’ll “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Pet. 3:15)