Several weeks ago, I left home for a brief business trip to Macon, Georgia. I boarded a plane west bound to Wichita, Kansas where I would change planes to return east and south to Atlanta. (This was one of those fare-saver flights where you go twice as far for half the cost – you know – one of the great mysteries of the modern world!) Anyway, as I took my window seat on the Wichita to Atlanta leg, a middle-aged woman sat down next to me. We struck up a conversation. She and her husband were on their way to Boston to vacation. (They didn’t have to go west before going east, but they were routed southeast before catching their second plane going northeast.)
Our conversation was surface stuff. She worked in the aviation industry in Wichita as a design assistant. We talked about her career, job security, and such in the wake of an ever-changing industry. Next, we discussed vacation spots. We had both been to Los Angeles, Orlando, and Hawaii. I had spent two weeks in Boston; this trip would be her first in the New England region. We talked about sites they planned to visit.
After a little over ½ hour, our conversation turned to family. She began to tell me about her 21 year old son whose life had started to take a down hill spiral in his senior year of high school when he began having panic attacks. As she rehearsed the grief that the whole family had experienced in the last 3 to 4 years, the warm, gentle countenance on her face disappeared and was replaced by a weightiness that furrowed her brow, turned down the corners of her mouth, and took the sparkle out of her eyes.
I listened much more than I responded. I never appreciated someone offering three, easy steps to victory as a solution to a situation that has consumed most of my waking hours for month after month? Therefore, I was slow to become the ‘answer man.’ The family had enlisted the aid of medical doctors, psychiatrists, and support groups – all to no avail. The young man had progressively withdrawn from life. He barely completed high school; college was too great a challenge; even a steady job had become an impossibility. In the most recent years, he had chosen to identify with peers that were not the quality of friends his parents would have selected for him.
This precious mother described dashed hopes and dreams. We talked for the whole plane ride. Mostly, she talked and I listened. I realized that she just needed someone to share her load, even if only for an ever-so-brief period of time. At one point in the conversation, I reached out and touched her hand. She didn’t recoil and pull away as though a total stranger had just invaded her space. The warmth of my hand touching hers caused tears to instantly swell in her eyes. Someone connected with her burden. Someone cared about the pain and disappointment in her world.
The plane landed; we said our good-byes; and I told her that I would pray for them. We smiled and parted. I will not see her again. I offered no long-term solution. Her world will not be forever altered because we shared this momentary span of time. The Bible tells us that we are to bear one another’s burdens. Perhaps, just perhaps, that small window of time that she was able to download her burden to me will enable her to endure a little longer, hope another day, find the strength to go a little further. And maybe, that little extra distance will be just enough for her to arrive at an answer to her dilemma.