International air travel. An acquired taste.
The few places I’ve ventured to out of my home country can be counted on one hand — at least I think they can. Let’s see. England, Scotland, France, Monaco, Italy, Ukraine, and Ecuador. Oh, wait. Mexico and Canada. And I did not fly to those two. And clearly I needed more than one hand to count. Now we know.
Seven years ago the lure of the imminent birth of a grandson in Ecuador was enough to get us on an international flight. Who am I kidding. If I’d had to, I would’ve walked down there; grandchildren make a person crazy like that. Thankfully though, the modernized world provided me an airplane. Several airplanes. If memory serves, it was Eugene to San Francisco to Houston to Quito. I don’t recommend the second one (SFO) to anyone on my friend list, but that’s another story.
By the time we reached Houston, the evening stars were already shining through the floor-to-ceiling windows of the George W. Bush Intercontinental Airport and the international terminal was filled to capacity (remember actual crowds before COVID?). I’m sure those of you in the airline industry could enlighten me as to why so many international flights take off and fly through the night, but I’d like to raise my hand and declare that flying over the Gulf of Mexico at night is not my favorite. I don’t even like to merge into highway traffic over our local river so I avoid that particular spot in my hometown. (I know who you are making fun of me if you’re reading this.) And so we boarded our flight to South America.
There is a lot of Spanish speaking on flights to South America (news flash). It’s like taking a slow dip into the culture you’re about to slam into. Once you’re immersed in another tongue and another people group, you begin to grasp just how big the world is. How small you are in comparison.
The language thing is only one of many cultural zings to your nervous system but it’s a big one. Another aspect within the context of the travel is that Americans typically get lumped into one big reputation internationally as being convinced that the U.S.A. has a corner on the market of “Everything Right.” It’s not fair, but there you go. And everyone who travels with a United States passport has that to deal with (thanks, whomever youse guys are). So, you play nice. Extra nice. You smile and interact if possible.
We found our seats 2/3 of the way back on the left. My coveted window seat was already occupied by a dark-formed person with a hood over the face, no interest in interaction, and smelling of approximately a quart of Axe body spray. I sat in the middle. Bob on the aisle. Not long into the flight those gifted at sleeping on airplanes began their routine with earplugs, puffy neck rings, eye masks, and obliviousness. I, as always, sat there. Awake. Sometimes reading. Sometimes messing with the screen on the seatback in front of me. Sometimes poking Bob to see if he was still alive. Time crawls when you’re having fun.
Five-and-a-half hours into a six-hour flight is when the population of the airplane really got to know one another. I’m not an aviator so I do not grasp details of updraft/atmospheric pressure/tailwind/pitch/wind shear, and above all, turbulence, as they pertain to landing a large aircraft.
In the dark.
In the rain.
Between two mountain ranges and a nearby active volcano. Seriously. Whose idea was it to put a city there?
The bumpiness was pretty standard for an initial descent so passengers were already seated and most had their seatbelts on. So it could’ve been much worse.
The Big Bang came without warning. It was a deafening noise simultaneously accompanied by a sharp drop of the giant airplane and was all over within a few seconds, but lasted long enough for screams, folks falling upwards, and for the young man sitting next to me to hit his head quite hard on the frame of the window. Mr. Cool with the Axe body spray and nary a word between Houston and Quito was now crying and I, designated Chief Comforter because of my gray hair and middle seat right next to him, spoke soothing words as I would to a child, holding him around the shoulders until he regained the Axe composure. More than once both he and I uttered the name “Jesus” and not in a swearing type manner. Ever heard the phrase, “There are no atheists in foxholes?” Same goes for severe turbulence.
Oh, and Bob slept through it just like he did the Great Idaho Earthquake of 1983, but that’s another story. Heh.
I’ve borrowed this video of a night landing into Quito. It may not interest you for the full 8+ minutes. Or maybe it will.
As it so happens there has come some turbulence of a different nature into our lives in the past few weeks. Its exact description is not necessary to this conversation, but suffice to say, it has knocked us sideways, caused us to lose some altitude, and definitely given rise to many utterances of “Jesus” around our house.
There have been a few days I haven’t gotten dressed. And a couple times that when I did, I actually got tangled up in my clothing trying to get it over my head because my thoughts were elsewhere. The tag of my t-shirt once ended up not only in the front but on the outside and stayed that way for half the day before I noticed — my wrong-side-out clothes mocking my wrong-side-out emotional state. “If I’m not who I’ve been for all these years then who am I?” The Garment that identifies my personhood is gone.
Like a Big Bang.
To top it off I’ve been playing with guilt for not heeding the warning. I had felt for a while that something like this was coming down the tracks, bearing down like a freight train. In an attempt to squash down the bug of cynicism that a friend noticed in my life many years ago and not-so-gently pointed out (but that’s what true friends do), I repeatedly cast aside an uneasiness I should’ve paid attention to. Prayed it away. Didn’t say anything. Didn’t warn. So let me tell you now that it’s okay to feel awareness and that if you consider yourself to be a bit more wily or wary than a loved one on whom a train has set its sights, by all means, get in between them and it. You’re not cynical. You’re prepared. You’re protective. I should’ve lain down in front of it.
Never fear, friends. I’m not giving up on wholeheartedly embracing the words of Jesus when He speaks in the Beatitudes about the meek inheriting the earth. It’s good to keep guard on your words. Watch and pray. Let situations play out. Turn the other cheek. Clearly, people who repeatedly feel the need to stir the pot lose credibility and cause others to look the other way when they see them coming. Don’t be that guy.
And also let me be crystal clear that my love for the church (and the Church) are second only to my love for Jesus. She has been a home for my heart and my person for most of my days. I can’t live without her. I believe also that I/we come under the authority of her leadership and that the leadership comes under further authority from their leadership, and ultimately all of us from God. It’s been a beautiful system, that when followed correctly, works like a dream. Please, dear ones, stay the course. Be true to the basics. Support your pastors. Love them. And also, keep your ear to the ground. That’s not cynical. It’s smart. People are only human. Christ came to redeem the world . . . to save souls . . . not to stand on their backs to build the Kingdom.
Here’s a song to wrap up our time together. It’s a touching reminder of the Garment in which we, here in our household, continue to be wrapped. We will one day soon see the good in the turbulence, the clearing of the confusion of how we are clothed, and the train having come and gone. There is freedom in emerging out into the sunlight from wrong-side-out-ed-ness. We are still who He says we are.
All will be well. All is well. I can still hear our dear president of Northwest Nazarene College many years ago, Dr. Ken Pearsall, saying these words of scripture like only he could say them:
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness;
and all these things shall be added unto you. Matthew 6:33 KJV
When you do life in that order, dear ones, how can anything be wrong-side-out?