Headphones. Snacks. Book. I patted my back. I knew how to travel. The five hour flight to Phoenix would be nothing.
Then I looked across to my seatmate. A seventy-something-year-old gentleman.
With one minuscule magazine.
I said,”You travel light.”
That was my first mistake.
By hour three, I'd heard about his wife's death from ovarian cancer ten years before, his father's death from a car accident when he was one, his brother's suicide at thirty-five and his sister's death at twenty-four. When he shared how his granddaughter had died during the first days after his wife's funeral, and then he pulled out a snapshot of a beautiful blond-haired senior, I forgot about my reading and music plans and reached for a tissue.
That's when I made my second mistake.
"My wife’s in heaven, but will I ever get there?," he said through his tears.
The perfect storm. What every Christian prays for. An opportunity to give assurance.
But that’s when I blew it.
I mumbled something like, "If you believe, you'll get there and see her."
Yeah. Right. If you believe in what.
The entire next week I prayed we would be on the return flight together. When I rushed to my gate to board, I looked for him. I was seated a few rows up from where I'd sat before. Then I saw him coming toward me. His face lit up and he stopped to say hello.
Nothing more. I didn’t get a second chance.
I pray he will.
I've thought about this man often and how I let him down. I see his face, his tears and his pain.
I didn't speak when I should have but I promised myself the next time I will. In the meantime, until I get that opportunity again, I also promised myself I can do what I do best.
I can write about it.
Are you better prepared than I was?