Mike and I recently visited our daughter, Sarah, who lives in Denver. We walked down the ramp boarding the plane and a man wearing cowboy boots turned to me and said, "If you're following me I don't know where I'm going." I laughed, taking the edge off the anxiety that often comes when I fly.
We shared the row with this gentleman; Mike sat on the aisle, I was in the middle and the gentleman had the window seat. Mike brought a book to read, I had a small quilt to make and the man brought nothing to do.
Shortly after we took off, he started talking. He told me he was going to Denver to spend the week fishing with his son, whom he had not seen for two years.
"I've been a truck driver for 30 years. I drive all over the country for a large company," he offered.
I asked a few questions about his work, and told him what Mike and I did professionally.
He seemed eager to tell me more about his life. He began, "I've done a lot of things I am not proud of."
"I see," dropping my hands from the fabric I was piecing and looked into his pale blue eyes. He continued.
"I fought in Viet Nam. I saw and did a lot of things I didn't want to do. I went to church, but people judged me for riding a motorcycle, for the clothes I wore, my tattoos, my job, my divorce. I want to be married, but I can't seem to hang on to a woman. Takes a special woman to stay married to a truck driver. I regret my marriage didn't last. I didn't go back to church. I feel what happens to me after I die is between me and God."
I listened and felt l like I was hearing a confession. I told him I was sorry for his experiences at church. I regret he didn't try another church, and will only know God when he dies.
He continued to talk as I resumed piecing a small quilt for a baby shower in early August. I paused periodically to continue eye contact.
"My wife didn't want the boys, so I took them and raised them best I could. We Skype and stay in touch that way."
"Sounds like you did a good job. Spending a week together will give you lots of time to talk."
"Yes we'll have fun in the peace and quiet. I've got bear spray just in case!" he laughed, sharing a story about an encounter he had with a bear a few years ago.
"Oh my! I pray you have a wonderful vacation."
"Thank you. We will."
Our conversation ended just as the "fasten the seatbelt sign" flashed and the attendant alerted us the plane was making the final descent, preparing to land.
I took a few pins out of the little quilt which grew as I talked. Quilting is a way I feel God's presence and my piecing provided a holy backdrop of this gentleman's heart. As I folded the quilt to tuck away in my bag, I knew all I heard and carried to God was recorded in the stitches holding the fabric together.
Prayer: Thank you, God, for putting me next to this stranger who had a need to express thoughts that lived deep in his heart. Help me always to stay present to those whom I encounter and keep me mindful when I need to pause, and listen to one of your children. Amen