This is another story inspired by the Jesus bracelet. See this earlier post for the picture and explanation.
I slid my plane ticket onto the attendant’s desk, not bothering to look up from the email I was skimming on my phone. I’d hoped to have at least one night to recoup after this trip. Maybe I’d have even spent it at home with my wife. I couldn’t remember the last home cooked meal I’d eaten. Then again, home wasn’t as relaxing as it used to be.
It didn’t really matter anymore, though, since I wouldn’t be getting that night anyway. A good reporter followed the news. And according to the email, the news was halfway across the country.
I spared the attendant a glance to retrieve my ticket and shuffled my way onto the plane. My small suitcase slid easily into the overhead compartment and I slumped into my window seat. I considered pulling out my laptop to confirm the details of this additional, last minute trip and the breaking news I’d be covering. Then I saw the first batch of travelers I’d be stuck with for the next two hours and tucked my briefcase under the seat in front of me instead. Working on my phone would generate enough sour looks from this bunch without needing to add more technology.
As more and more of them piled onto the plane, I noticed a lot of them carrying on large, group conversations. And those groups merged and split like cells as they all found their seats. I rolled my eyes and groaned. It was going to be a long two hours.
I pulled my ear buds from a pocket and thumbed through various jazz albums on my phone. If I had those ear buds in and kept my eyes on the screen, whoever ended up next to me would hopefully be less likely to start chatting. It had worked on previous business trips. Then a metallic clatter brought my eyes to the aisle floor.
A set of keys, or rather, a collection of key chains with a few keys on it, sat there in a jumbled clump. My gaze traveled slowly up and I was not surprised by what I saw of the owner.
Flowers. A lot of flowers. And who wore a hat on an airplane? I mean, a ball cap I could understand, but that monstrosity? Was she really going to wear it the whole time?
Then I came back to her face and instantly felt somewhat shamed by the cynical thoughts. She had a charming smile. To make up for the disrespectful attitude, I gave her a small smile in return. Her eyes lit up.
For a moment I was transported back to the first time I had seen my wife. Her eyes had lit up the same way. And it dawned on me that she didn’t smile like that anymore. Or perhaps she did and I was simply too busy to notice.
I came back to the present and suppressed a groan. I hadn’t gotten the ear buds in soon enough.
She was a talker. Of course she was a talker.
The flowery Sally gave me another charming smile. Then she pushed her carry-on the rest of the way into the overhead compartment and bent to pick up her key chains. She sat in the aisle seat next to me and the jangle they made grated against my already frayed nerves. Like she was sawing my brain with them instead of flipping through them like they were a stress reliever. And naturally she was jabbering away the entire time.
I tried to focus on the emails I’d opened on my phone while the plane taxied out to the runway, but for some reason my eyes kept being drawn back to those ridiculous key chains. There was Micky Mouse. I could only imagine from Disneyland. The Eiffel tower. Either Paris or LA. I couldn’t see her type enjoying LA, but I also had a hard time seeing her affording a trip to Paris. A glittery one in all colors of the rainbow must have meant she had grandchildren.
Then my eyes landed on one that seemed somehow different from the others. In what way, I couldn’t figure out. I almost dismissed it as another crafty thing her grandchildren had made her. But something about it made me look again. Perhaps it was the strange order in which the beads were arranged; or maybe it was the gleaming spots on some of them revealing how often she held this particular chain. Whatever it was, I couldn’t stop glancing at it.
Then, as the plane reached altitude, I became aware of a stark lack of chatter. I glanced at the woman. What was her name again? Sally.
She was staring at me with an unnerving look in her eyes. Like all my sly peeking hadn’t fooled her for a second. Like she knew every thought that had gone through my head and knew exactly what sort of man I was. A shiver ran down my spine.
Then she looked back down at the chain, releasing me from her piercing gaze. I dragged in a deep breath as quietly as I could. What was with this woman? I started tapping out a reply to my boss’s email.
“You know, I’ve had this particular key chain for a long time,” she said. “I made it myself, actually.”
I glanced sideways at her.
“Really? I never would have guessed.” My dripping sarcasm didn’t phase her.
“Yup. It actually tells a whole story, too.”
Oh no. I was in …
“Would you like to hear it?”
trouble. Crap. If I said yes, I would be stuck listening to old lady stories for the entire trip. But if I said no, I’d come off as a heartless jerk. Which normally wouldn’t bother me, except we were both stuck on this plane. Being rude to embezzling CEOs, criminal masterminds, and multimillionaires was one thing. Being rude to harmless, kindly old ladies – especially kindly old ladies I would be sitting next to for two hours straight – was just … Well, let’s just say I was even less eager to endure her glares for the entire trip.
I glanced back at Sally and nearly groaned at the hopeful look in her eyes. What was I getting myself into?
“Why not? Tell me the story.”
Then, the strangest thing happened. She started telling me all about Jesus, the same Jesus I’d learned about in Sunday School as a kid. Only she began explaining things I’d never thought about, showing me new perspectives I’d never considered. Without even realizing it, I had tucked my phone away and was soon not simply listening, but asking all kinds of questions. Questions about Jesus, about faith, about life. Where only moments before I had thought I had everything I could possibly want, I now felt empty. Moments ago I had contemplated spending a night with my wife like she was a risky asset, and now being two hours away from her felt like an eternity.
My boss had told me the breaking news was halfway across the country. But he was wrong. The breaking news was 30,000 feet in the air, tucked inside the heart of a sweet and caring grandmother.