Every Thursday we’ll post something to do with relational or emotional concerns. Hope it helps.
The Unscheduled Appointment
I love what I do for a living, and count myself hugely blessed when I remember how rare it is for your work and your first love to be the same. I come alongside men getting serious about their holiness, I write on subjects that matter to me, and I speak to churches and conferences, all of which I’d do as a volunteer if I had to do something else for income. My work is my passion, so I’m a pathetic brat if (and when) I complain.
Except when I fly. Out of state speaking engagements are an honor to accept, thoroughly enjoyable as well, except for the flying. Airport parking lots, check-ins, baggage claims, delayed flights and endless lines can take their toll, so by the time I take my seat on a plane I’m either tired and fretting over the event I’m headed to, or tired and drained from the event I just finished. Either way, I’m lousy company. Some people take their seat smiling, eager to talk to the passenger next to them. Me, I hunker down with headphones on, book in hands, and Beware of Dog sign firmly in place.
So when the flight attendant escorted the little boy to the seat next to mine I smelled trouble. It was sometime in 2002, as I remember, and my flight from Washington DC was non-stop, God be praised, affording me a leisurely browse through the John Grisham novel I’d started at the airport, then a long nap before landing in LA. Talking wasn’t on the menu, not even to a delightful kid. But at my Scroogiest, I still wasn’t about to ignore him when he plopped down, tapped my arm and said, “Hi. I’m Brent. Can I please get my seat belt?” I complied, shifting my rear, under which countless airline seatbelts seem compelled to go. He thanked me with politeness belying his 9 years – 10 years, max – then settled in, eyes wandering over the plane, then the window, then me. Brent was a handsome kid, huge brown eyes under thick sandy brown hair, good grooming, sterling manners, and – hmmm. Hunger. I whiffed it when he first spoke, then saw it plainly when he looked up at me. All my father instincts kicked in, along with the questions: Where were his parents? Where’s he headed? Why’s he staring at me? Why do I feel like adopting him? Trouble.
“Where are you going?” he asked. “Home”, I brilliantly replied, then asked where home was for him.
“Sometimes here; sometimes Los Angeles” His voice weakened when he said Los Angeles, and visions of cross-country trips from Mom to Dad immediately depressed me.
The divorce must have been recent; he still looked fragile. I wouldn’t push.
Long pause. “So — what do you think you’ll do in LA?” I finally offered.
“I. Don’t. Know.” Just like that; every word a sentence. Scrooge was morphing into Santa as we spoke, and I was near tears. The kid wanted to talk, but not about anything too close to home. Fine.
“Hope there’s a good movie on.” Small talk’s not my forte, but gimme a break, I really was trying.
“Uh huh” he said eagerly, buckling up.
Silence throughout take-off; glances at me when the plane leveled off. I smiled; Brent grinned; headsets were handed out.
I turned to my book minutes before another shoulder tap.
“Do you know how this turns on?”
I adjusted the dials, tapped him on the nose playfully and turned away just before I heard him say, clearly and simply, “You’re a very nice man.”
And that’s when I knew why the tears were begging to charge out of me. I recognized that voice, that look, that hunger. 1962, old theater downtown, tow headed boy of about 8 sitting in the lobby alone as usual, lonely as always, waiting for the movie. Nice looking middle aged man sits next to him – next to me – striking up conversation. Lonely boy drinks in the attention, man escorts boy to bathroom, man forever changes boy’s life over the next half hour of molestation, promises, threats and lies. But it all began with hunger. And trust – Mr. you’re a nice man.
Forget Grisham. Forget tired. I was sitting next to me, keeping an appointment not listed in my book but clearly and divinely made nonetheless. I’d meet this boy’s hunger with attention and legitimate affection, try not to speculate as to what made him so vulnerable, and thank God for the privilege of sitting next to a 2002 version of myself and, tragically, a representative of the thousands of hungry boys out there shuttled from home to home, so starved for connection that a stranger on a plane adjusting a dial stands out. We talked about nothing, and it was a terrific conversation. I watched the movie with him, joked, told him stories about my own sons, my pretty wife, and the lousy golf game I played last week. And every time he looked up at me and laughed, heaven opened. Never has a cross-country flight moved so quickly for me.
The flight attendant walked him off the plane; I followed close behind. We’d already said goodbye and I wished him the best. I saw his Dad at the terminal, and glared. Where was the gleam in his eye when he saw his boy? Where were the long hugs, the shouting?
I judged too harshly, I know. Because of course I didn’t know. I didn’t know anything about him, not really. He may have been from a fine home, fathered by a loving man, cared for deeply. All my hopes say so, but my instincts don’t buy it.
Funny, huh? It still gets to me. So I pray. I say Brent’s name every so often, pray blessing, hope and love to be in his life and, above all, salvation. Because if this old sinner loved the kid upon meeting him, how much more does my Father want to be his as well? So I remember, and I hurt, and I move on.
And, I hope, I slow down enough to realize that not every priority appointment is written in my daytimer.