He ambled down the aisle, bumping into everyone he passed.  “Oh dear God, please don’t let him sit next to me. PLEASE!”

Earlier I had breathed deeply and settled into my seat.  My heart, mind and body were so thankful to be going home.  After a long 4 days in Chicago, I was emotionally and physically tired and planned to enjoy “my” exit row chair to its fullest.  The sole purpose of the book in my lap was to zone out the world.  I did not want to chat or talk deeply to a.n.y.o.n.e.

His burly shadow soon hovered over the pages of my book.  Hopefully his seat was on the other side.  He turned to put his bag in the overhead.  Oblivious to anyone around him, my shoulder took the hit of his many attempts to lift his bags.  Trying to be patient with this older man, I finally put out my hand to stop the assault of his bag.

And of course, his seat was next to mine.

It took the gentleman several in and outs from our row before he could settle.   I grudgingly helped him find his seat belt.  My other row mate was a large younger man.  Both men barely squeezed into the tiny seats as upper bodies spilled over the arm rest edges.  Overflowing in my direction as they leaned to give each other space, a disgusted deep sigh escape from my mouth and I felt my eyes roll.  Irritated I gave a few elbows to recapture my seating space.

Oh, I know you know what I’m talking about.

He began to make conversation right away.  “Is Houston your home?  I’m goin’ to Florida.  Supposed to have flown out yesterday, but my flight got cancelled because of the snow.”  I was so annoyed.  One word answers, Robyn and start reading quickly.  It worked, he quieted.  I rejoiced inwardly with a little happy dance.

Once in the air, he fell asleep almost instantly.

Yeah… you guessed it, not over yet.   Slowly his upper body began to sway and lean further my way.  Seriously, this cannot be happening.  I could feel his snoring breath coming closer.  Then inches from landing on my shoulder he’d jolt back to his space.  Should I wake him?  I tried again to be patient and put out my hand to keep him from falling on me.  But I was irritated.

And this man was not going away – literally or figuratively!

Now, there is nothing wrong with wanting a quiet trip home or your personal space.  But in my heart I felt some disdain for things not going my way – and honestly, for this man beside me.  Eventually, I began to give myself a little reprimand.  “He’s just a tired old man, Robyn.  Surely you can be mature.  It’s only 2 hours and you can do anything for two hours.”  Then out of nowhere two thoughts popped into my mind:  “What if you are entertaining angels, Robyn?”  What?  “This is a man created in My imageWill you continue to treat him in this way?”

That was SO not fair!

Yet, my heart was pierced with truth.  So, I took in a few deep breaths; deep life giving breaths not the disgusted air of earlier.  Turning my face, I began to look at him.  Really look at this giant sleeping beside me.  The deep wrinkles carved upon his face and his translucent shriveled hands.  I wondered what story they told.  The drink cart came around and he awoke.

I kindly helped him with his tray.

We spent the remainder of the trip chatting away.  Actually, I mostly listened.  “Well, hell,” was his favorite phrase.  And it made me smile each time he said it.  I heard about his growing up years, wives, children, grandchildren and all of his surgeries.  I did manage to ask a few questions and he easily went more deeply into his heart.  He threw out messages like stupid and not enough.  After all these years, he still held so much shame about who he thought he was as a man.  Knowing only a bit of his story, I had the opportunity to respond kindly and truthfully.  His eyes watered.  Mine too.

No, I don’t think he was an angel.

He was a man created in God’s image – just as I am a woman created in His image – both worthy of love and kindness.  Somewhere along the line God changed my tired irritated heart towards what He loves – His creation.   He gave me the energy to engage and replaced irritation with compassion.  As this older man exited the plane, I found myself so tender and protective of him.  I eagerly helped him with his bags.  He turned and gently thanked me several times.  And I watched as he walked a bit straighter down the aisle.  Tired souls and hurting spirits refreshed.

It was a joy.

Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.   John 13:34  


Robyn Whitakernbsp
Robyn Whitaker lives in Texas with her beloved husband of 32 years. She has an adventurous heart that is learning to breathe. Lover of truth, seeker of story, aspiring author and newborn dreamer, this mother of three is in search of redemption and living her Kingdom purpose.
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