I am one of those passengers who has my book open in my lap almost immediately after clicking my seatbelt together. But on March 15, 2016, before my flight out of South Bend, Indiana left the runway, I told God that I was willing to talk if He wanted me. It didn’t take long for me to see that His answer was, “Yes, listen.”
On Flight 4609 from South Bend to Minneapolis, I sat next to a burley man named Chase*, with clear hazel eyes and heavy eye lids, with eye lashes that swept lavishly when he blinked. We had the customary conversation about our jobs before veering into his personal territory. For a man, he was quite talkative, and I enjoyed hearing about his nine year-old daughter and thirteen year-old son. It was clear to me that he was very proud of his children and was taking great care to teach them about life.
Eventually I asked about his wife, and I was surprised when his tone changed considerably. He spoke of her in a clinical, negative way, pointing out all of her flaws as if they were diagnoses in a medical record. He said he realized shortly after marrying her that she was not the person she projected herself to be on the online dating program he used to find her. He talked about how she spends all of her time exercising, how she’s in a bad mood every time she comes home, and how she prefers the company of her girlfriends over him (and even suggested, with some embarrassment, that she had a romantic relationship with said girlfriends).
I asked a lot of questions: how they met, what activities they had in common, had they tried counseling? Typical questions. I tried to be sympathetic when possible, keeping in mind that I was only hearing one side of the story. We talked for the duration of our one hour flight, and it saddened me to hear such negativity and indifference in a marriage, especially with young children involved. I wished I could say something to help him.
Eventually I told him, unapologetically, how fortunate I was be married to a man that I considered to be my best friend, that we had several common interests and we enjoyed being around each other very much. Chase shrugged and said, “Don’t be sorry for me. I just have a typical marriage.” By this point, the plane had landed, docked at the gate, and passengers were standing as they waited to deplane.
A “typical marriage”? This is what people had to look forward to? Pitting your children against your spouse? Spending weekends away from each other? Looking forward to when the kids grow up so you can sign divorce papers? I’ve always felt fortunate to have my best friend as my husband, but after this conversation, I began to wonder if my marriage is more special than I realized.
We said our good-byes, ran to catch our connecting flights, and as I hurriedly rushed onto Flight 2243 flying to Tampa, I warned my new seatmate, named Russ*, that I would be making a mad dash to the lavatory once we were at cruising altitude. He flashed a broad, white smile and jokingly said, “I think I heard the stewardesses say that all lavatories were out of order.” Over the course of the next few hours, we talked about his current life (wife finishing Occupational Therapy school, an up-coming move to Arizona from North Dakota, enjoying the outdoors with his wife, and reading books). We began discussing the books he had on his list, and he asked for suggestions (I offered Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture, since he seemed interested in self-improvement and management-type books).
Russ had an openness to him, and he was also talkative like Chase was. But he and his wife were newlyweds, married in October 2015, so the beauty and glitter of marriage had not yet tarnished. Their marriage, though in its infancy, was the antithesis to the marriage I had glimpsed in my previous flight. It was still a refreshing contrast, even knowing that they haven’t been “roughed up” yet by life. Somehow I think they’ll be okay, that they will turn to each other and to their growing knowledge to make it through those trials.
As for me, I am not exactly sure why God wanted me to talk to these men. Perhaps He wanted me to have a glimpse into what others were experiencing. Sometimes we learn more from strangers than from our routine interactions. Perhaps later I will remember these two men when I forget (again) how fortunate I really am – I have my best friend along for the ride, and we’ve been on this ride long enough to weather the turbulence better than we did at the beginning.
*-not their actual names