The Awkwardness of Airports

Sitting in airports makes me completely uncomfortable.   There are few places in the world where so many people, from so many different walks of life are all gathered in a single place with nothing to do.  Everybody is bored, or reading, or nowadays they’re likely on a laptop or texting.  One third of people are physically here but by the look on their faces mentally they are somewhere far, far away.  Everyone is coming and going and caught in the middle of unfolding stories of life that they’re trying to figure out while purposfully avoiding eye contact with everyone else in the vicinity.  And I’m writing because I’m not sure what to do in situations like this.

This morning Jon and I are on a trek up to Washington to spend a week with my family.  We drove from San Luis Obispo to Oakland last night where we stayed in a Sleep, Park ‘N Ride hotel and we awoke this morning to billows of marijuana smoke coming in through our window because our neighbor on the floor below us was enjoying his 6am fix.  We ate a quick breakfast of dried out toast and Fruit Loops at the hotel’s continental breakfast and then we caught our shuttle to the Oakland airport.

And now at the airport, waiting for our flight I’m uncomfortable.  Because in moments like this I can’t decide how I should live out my Christianity.  And suddenly simply believing in God doesn’t seem to cut it.  It doesn’t seem to be changing the world unless I let the Lord Jesus live through me in moments like this.  But my coffee is still kicking in and I fear that by the time I wake up and decide what I should do I will already be on the plane on my way to somewhere else.

Sometimes I wonder if I complicate what God is really asking me to do.  Yet at the same time I am afraid to simply soothe myself, saying that just to go through my day with a positive attitude is enough.  As if me just breathing is enough to fulfill the Great Commission.  I have a reoccuring daydream at airports.  They usually consist of me stepping up on top of a chair and beginning to speak out all kinds of riveting things about God.  Telling the people that there is something worthwhile to hope in.  Soon a crowd is gathering to hear the good news and even the security guards who should be taking action against me can’t help but pull up a chair and listen to the dramatic illustration of  the greatest love story of all time.  However, as I imagine these epic scenarios my legs grow vines that wrap around the base of my chair and pretty soon I have roots that go twenty feet deep into the floor.

And I get really uncomfortable.  Stuck in between what I long to do and what I’m really willing to carry out at this moment.  However, all my thoughts and prayers about wanting to do something worthwhile with my day of travel didn’t go to waste.  After sitting around thinking about things for a while it was time to board our plane.  And after taking my sweet time to get my things together we were the second to last people boarding the aircraft.  Not a big deal until we realized that this was an open seating flight and because of my slowness Jon and I were likely going to be sitting on opposite ends of the plane.  Awesome.

Luckily, when we walked onto the plane it was not a full flight but almost every middle seat was open.  Again, really awkward.   Airports are awkward but it might be even more uncomfortable trying to choose which middle seat to take because you know that no matter who you sit next to they will be highly annoyed that someone ruined their opportunity for a spacious flight.  So we headed for the back of the plane hoping to find a few seats still open for us.  Near the back there were a few rows left with only one person seated so I carefully scanned each person, sizing them up, trying to determine their level of awkwardness so that i could choose who would be the least awkward person to sit next to.  There was a younger guy reading a book with headphones on that looked strangely angry and a middle age businessman that seemed to have some allergy symptoms going on so i took the middle seat next to a friendly looking 60-ish year-old Indian woman who was quietly playing with her phone.  She looked safe and i figured she may not even speak English, therefore making her a promising candidate for my flight company.

She didn’t say much at first and eventually we made a little bit of small talk, exchanging our names and such.  I pulled out my pillow to prepare to sleep through the next one hour and forty-one minutes of air time, but instead the thought crossed my mind that maybe a second best option to dramatic airport preaching, was to explore a little with my neighbor.  Besides, Jesus not only preached to crowds but he made time for a bunch of people along the way.

I’m glad I made that decision because I spent the next hour and thirty minutes listening intently to this woman tell me all about her experiences in India and in America, about her two college-aged sons, about the changing social and family trends in the US, and about the heartbreak surrounding her husband running off with his secretary last year. She told me how she loved the independence and freedom that America had given her because as a 5’6″ woman who prefered pants over lavish dresses that reached the floor, in India she was often mocked for her giant-like height and tom-boy appearance.  But she said the price she paid for her independance was the slow but steady breakdown of her family and the independant spirit that had caused her boys to move far away from home and that lead her husband to cheat on her for over three years in her own home.  She also told me about how she was a Muslim and how her husband was a Hindu, but that in India everyone is either Muslim, Hindu or Catholic and that religion is all just ways of teaching your children family values anyway so it was easy for them to coexist together in different religions.

It’s funny because I find that talking to people about Jesus is fairy easy when they don’t have much of a religious background, but I’ve always had a bit of an issue talking about Jesus with people who are already devoted to another religion.  I’m not sure why, but the thought has always made me feel a little bit intimidated and small and I quickly become afraid to offend.  So depsite my fear I decided to be brave and I asked her what she thought about Jesus.  And to be honest it didn’t really go anywhere too deep because she stated simply that he was a prophet just like Muhammad.  However a few minutes later after a solid hour and a half of listening, God gave me an eleven minute window to share my testimony and the truth about what God had done in my life over the past couple years.

I don’t know exactly what that woman, whose name I still find difficult to pronounce, thought about everything I shared.  Our flight ended shortly after I finished my story and after a few kind remarks we parted ways as I headed off to baggage claim.  But you never know what God will do with the tremendous seeds that we plant for His sake.  And for myself personally, it was a great life lesson because I don’t always choose the path of friendliness, of having time to hear someone out, or the one where you choose to get over the awkwardness and start a conversation, but I do know that I seldom regret being that kind of person.

I pray for that sweet woman.  God loves her very much and I pray she comes to realize just how sweet it is to trust in Jesus.

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