With some trepidation this past week, I took my first commercial flights since before the pandemic.
Angst simmered in my heart for days before the trip, fueled both by media reports and the travel-tales-of-woe I’ve heard from many friends and family in recent weeks. And I noticed that the simmer rose to a rolling boil once I arrived at the airport – undoubtedly fed by the anxious, preoccupied looks I saw on the faces of virtually every other traveler.
We’re driven to distraction, aren’t we, by TSA rules and queues. By airline apps and boarding passes. By schedule changes and the incessant announcements droning on from ceiling speakers. And notably, by our burning desire to claim that most precious piece of real estate in all the world: space in the overhead compartment for a carry-on suitcase.
The anxiety abates a bit once you reach the gate, of course. Having successfully jumped through a few dozen pre-trip hoops, you realize there’s now at least a reasonable chance you’ll get on the plane and reach the destination sometime before sundown.
Say, where exactly is that plane, anyway? Something tells me we’re not going to begin the boarding process anytime soon…
As it happened, I did indeed acquire my own mini-travel-tale-of-woe last week – delayed departures on both legs of my trip. This circumstance offered the chance for a little rueful reflection: Why had I bothered to rush to the airport in the first place?
But before long, this self-focused regret had morphed into something unexpected – a blessing of sorts. With time on my hands, I found myself staring at the ceiling. Literally. And noticing there, how the ceiling was supported by an array of hardened steel trusses. And realizing how much I tend to take things like steel trusses for granted…even though I know precious little about their design, development, manufacture, delivery, installation and maintenance.
My world is in fact filled with many such underappreciated technological marvels. Those flat-screen monitors, fer instance, keeping me updated on the status of the flight. The QR code boarding pass on my smart-phone, and its reader at the entrance to the jetway. The jetway itself, and the Boeing 737 at the end of it.
The more I thought about these things, the more I realized that “anxiety” is truly an inappropriate response to the rigors of an air-travel day. It should instead fill my heart with gratitude and wonder. God’s glory is reflected in every such technology I tend to take for granted – not only at the airport, but in the familiar routines of everyday life.
I think this may be along the lines of what Qoheleth has in mind when he reminds us in the book of Ecclesiastes that “all things are vanity.” As we hear in today’s first reading:
For what profit comes to [people] from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which [they have] labored under the sun? All [their] days, sorrow and grief are [their] occupation; even at night [their minds are] not at rest. This also is vanity.
And so I learned that a little down-time at the gate need not be such an annoying hassle after all. Perhaps it’s instead a chance to feel the Holy Spirit hovering over the place…dousing us with unnoticed blessings…and whispering a reassurance, that no matter what the circumstance, God’s got this.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.