>On Wednesday, I boarded a plane with my darling husband bound for Arkansas to see our son. We don’t travel that much and so, due to a huge oversight on our part, we failed to get our boarding passes ahead of time. We were both placed in “B” seats one row apart. It was a long 3.5 hour flight and I was pretty sad that we weren’t going to sit together, but I had brought both Fear and Trembling and Traveling Mercies, so I was set. Unfortunately, when I came to seat 19B, I saw that it was flanked by two extraoradinarily large people. My heart and stomach sank. They each spilled over into my seat quite a bit. In fact, by the looks of it I was facing a 3.5 hour flight while sitting in 1/2 a seat (they each appeared to take up a quarter of mine).
There was a man on the aisle and a woman at the window. The man pulled himself up and out of my way so I could sit down and said as I passed by, “You had to show up for this flight, didn’t you?” There didn’t seem to be any mirth in his voice, in fact he seemed rather accusatory, as though I had picked just this flight to ruin his comfort and so I answered back an affirmation that yes, in fact, I had shown up, thank you very much, with even less mirth in mine.
As I sat in my little sliver of a seat, they both struggled to get the arm rests down but both of them spilled out under and over the rests until there I was, literally wedged between them; this was my worst nightmare. I’m sure they weren’t comfortable either. How the airlines get around providing seats that aren’t big enough for an average 12 year old is beyond me, but this is my story, not theirs; they can write their own blog.
I’m a rather smallish person by nature. It isn’t a virtue by any means. I was born rather small and seem to have stayed that way through no real effort on my part. I take no credit for it, but I would have liked to have had an entire seat to myself just the same. I began to rant at God and the unfairness of it all. And I wasn’t any happier with my doctor for giving me a freakin’ book instead of the anti-anxiety medication I had asked him for.
I’m not kidding that I had a 1/2 a seat. My shoulders were squinched together as they both took over both arm rests with their bulk. I was so squinched that when they brought us the meal (yes, this flight DID include a meal of a salad and a cheeseburger) I couldn’t move my arms enough to open the salad dressing or wield a fork, so I sat there bringing the wilty lettuce to my mouth with the fingers of my right hand, one wilty piece at a time. Self-centered to the core, I wondered if my traveling companions thought I was eating wilty dressingless salad out of spite, but it truly was out of my inability to move my arms enough to open the container of dressing.
As we were taxiing down the runway to take off, the woman pulled a bag of sunflower seeds out of her purse and began to eat them one at a time. Every few seconds I’d get jostled just a bit as she’d reach into the bag to pull out a seed, then I’d hear the snap of the shell between her teeth followed by the slurp of the seed and then she’d spit the empty hull into her open purse. I was in hell. I was in hell and I was damn mad at God. This was going to be sheer torture.
I bought the one dollar headset, tuned it to the easiest listening station I could find, and did my best to drown out the snap and slurp and spit going on to the left of me and the conversation the man was having with his wife in the seat across the aisle (apparently she knew better than to get the seat next to him). There was no way I could read Kierkegaard in these conditions. Heck, it’s hard enough in comfort. So I broke my rule and opened Traveling Mercies and pretended I actually had an entire seat and that this would all be over soon. Two rows in front of me a baby started screaming. My God how I wanted to scream too.
But I didn’t. Through sheer willpower (and maybe, just possibly, the gin and tonic I ordered and sucked down with fervency) I sank myself into Anne Lamott’s loving and capable arms.
Traveling Mercies is her work before Plan B. It is the story of how she came to faith in God. I was happily reading along when I got to page 27 and read this sentence: “Then one day [Mrs. Gossman] gave us Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, and my life changed forever.”
Call me crazy or a gullible religious freak seeing God’s hand in every sunrise and impossibly claustrophic situation, but did she just say “…Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, and my life changed forever…”? I reread this sentence over and over again terrified to go on.
I don’t know how many times I reread that sentence wondering just what the odds were that the very book I was avoiding reading was going to be discussed in the book I was reading instead.
Journey to the Center of the Earth was the inflight movie. I wasn’t listening to it, but I looked up and watched the lovely Brendan Frasier running around all sweaty for at least one scene while I gathered myself together before going on. Sunflower seed lady’s magazine somehow escaped and she was squirming and twisting around trying to retrieve it from between her legs. I shamefully admit that I allowed her to struggle a tad longer than was absolutely necessary before I held my gin and tonic up with one hand, tucked my book under my chin and contorted myself into an impossible pretzel and rescued her magazine from between her thighs. All the while bracing myself because I knew I was about to receive a Word from the Lord. I’d fasted. I’d prayed. I’d lamented. I’d begged, pleaded and bargained and cajoled all in the lovely and spacious comfort of my home. And now here He was. I don’t know why He’d decided now, in this impossibly teeny, tiny space, as the exact moment He was coming to give me a message but this was it. This was His moment and He was coming in.
There are seven sentences in the next paragraph of Traveling Mercies. I would love to quote all of them but I won’t. I think I started crying on sentence three. By sentence six, tears were streaming down my face and, by sentence seven, I was having a full-blown crying jag epiphany. Here and now, squished and panicked, right this very moment, I was being led out of the spiritual desert I’ve been in for the better part of FOUR YEARS. Here are sentences six and seven:
[Abraham] understood that without God’s love and company, this life would be so empty and barbaric that it almost wouldn’t matter whether his son was alive or not. And since this side of the grave you could never know for sure if there was a God, you had to make a leap of faith, if you could, leaping across the abyss of doubt with fear and trembling.
Two paragraphs later, Lamott says this, “In the interior silence that followed my understanding of this scene, I held my breath….” I was holding my breath. Tears were streaming down my face. God was here. Him, me, these two incredibly large people, all squished into row 19. I didn’t have a kleenex and so the tears and the snot flowed. And I felt God there with me. I could let go of my son. I could let go of my number one idol: my family.
You see, I had made my family my idol. If I had a good marriage and raised good, godly children who turned out ok, then that meant that I was ok. I could parade it all around and show myself and everyone else that I had overcome. They were my evidence that I’d healed from my terrible childhood. They were my evidence that I was a functional, healthy person. They were my proof. I had needed my son to be ok to show the world…to show me…that I was ok. And right there in Row 19, God was asking me to give up my idol and let Him be my God instead.
I don’t know how anything is going to turn out with my son. But as much as a person can know, I know there is a God who loves me and loves my son and loves you. He’s not asking me to wield a knife and toss my son into a blaze, but He is asking me to let go and trust Him, to make a leap of faith that somehow, no matter how dark it gets, no matter how hopeless it seems, that He will be here with me. That all I have is Him.