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Every day offers the same opportunity: To spend it in activities, efforts, work and conversations that build others up or subjected by attitudes, choices, words and actions that push others down. Our choice impacts other dramatically.

Perhaps surprisingly, though, is the impact of those decisions on us. An evening flight last week proved this truth.

While settling into my seat, buckling up, positioning my drink, snacks, laptop, reading materials and journal (yes, I am more prepared than an overbearing parent of a 6 year old!), I overheard an unusual conversation a row behind me.

An elderly-sounding woman shared with the person next to her that this was her first trip since the death of her husband. She went on to mention that she was looking forward to talking with someone on the trip.

The gentleman next to her responded, “Lady, I am really sorry to hear about your husband. But Lady, I am using this flight for sleeping, not talking.”

Now, I am not judging the man. I use flights to work, read and write. Typically the passenger next to me is shocked to learn I am not mute! But something in her voice spoke to me. It reminded me of the many times when I needed someone to talk to; or when a friend needed to talk; or when my wife had a difficult day and just needed to vent.

I’ve discovered the value in having a plan, a mission, going into any situation. Mine is simply to ‘Live God’ through my actions, presence and words. It’s a purposeful attempt to model kindness and love (often I fall well short, by the way). Here was an opportunity to live that mission.

I turned around and asked the gentleman if he wouldn’t mind changing seats with me. He leapt forward; I crept back. The next 2 hours and 10 minutes were spent receiving a lecture.

It was a life-lecture – the story of a woman named Helen. It was the story of her childhood, poverty, marriage, World War, children, sleepless nights, grandchildren, loss, death, faith and love. She shared of losing two of her four children to separate accidents, a grandchild to AIDS, a husband to heart failure. She shared these stories not for attention or pity, but to impart the wisdom that in spite of the innumerable challenges of life, the journey forges us into the individuals we are perfectly intended to become.

I switched seats for her.

I discovered later it was actually entirely for me. The woman reminded me that it’s not in the doing and achieving we find success, but in the willingness to be present and open to possibilities. Sometimes those possibilities reveal themselves in the least likely of places and people – like an older, lonely woman who knew a lot about relationships, marriage, children, war, peace, family, faith, and death. And what it means to actually live.

My friend, return your emails, send out those reports, make those rounds, drive those carpools, finish that wash, hit all the parties, do the things of life. But remember, that the most important thing you may accomplish in your life might be nothing more than being open.

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays full of peace and joy. The good news is you don’t need to do anything to receive it. Simply be open to it and willing to listen for it. You’ll recognize the voice, but may have to switch seats to receive it.

John O’Leary

sub specie aeternitate, that is, to ask ourselves every day, “In the light of eternity will this really matter?”
flight 2626 12/12

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