Saturday, May 21, 2011

An Unforgettable Flight


I put my carry-on in the luggage compartment and sat down in my assigned seat. This is going to be a long flight, I thought. I’m glad I have a good book to read. Maybe I’ll get a little nap.

I fly frequently; I always look for an opportunity to share Jesus with someone. I wondered who it could be, because all around me were empty seats. Not much of a chance to talk to anyone, I thought.

Then just before takeoff a line of soldiers came down the aisle and took the seats across the aisle and in front of me. More came. Still more. Finally 10 soldiers filled all the vacant seats, totally surrounding me. This is more like it! OK, Lord, which one will it be? Who needs to hear about You?

I decided to start a conversation.

“Where are you headed?” I asked the soldier sitting closest to me.

“Chicago. To Great Lakes Base. We’ll be there two weeks for special training. Then we’re being deployed to Iraq.”

Anyone Hungry?

After we had been flying for about an hour, an announcement that sack lunches were available for $5 each was made. It would be several hours before we reached Chicago, and I quickly decided that a lunch would help. As I reached for my wallet, I overheard a soldier ask his buddy if he planned to buy a lunch.

“No, that seems like a lot of money just for a sack lunch. Probably isn’t worth $5. I’ll just wait until we get to Chicago.” His friend agreed.

I looked around at the other soldiers surrounding me. Not one was buying a lunch. I was hungry, but I couldn’t bring myself to eat in front of them. I walked to the back of the plane and handed the flight attendant a $50 bill. “Please take a lunch to all those soldiers,” I said.

She grabbed my arms and squeezed tightly, her eyes wet with tears. “My son was a soldier in Iraq,” she said. “It’s almost like you’re doing it for him.”

She picked up 10 lunches and headed for the area where the soldiers were seated. Overwhelmed by her emotional response, I returned to my seat, only to realize I had failed to order a lunch for myself. Before I could undo my seat belt the flight attendant stopped by my seat.

“Which would you like—beef or chicken?” she asked.

“Chicken,” I replied, wondering why she had asked. She went to the front of the plane and returned a minute later with a dinner plate from the first-class cabin. She put down my tray table and sat the plate on it. “This is your thanks,” she said.

Now I felt guilty. I had dinner, and the soldiers had only a sack lunch.

Gathering Momentum

After we finished eating, I went again to the back of the plane, heading for the restroom.

A man stopped me. “I saw what you did,” he said. “I want to be part of it. Here—take this.” He handed me $25.

Soon after I returned to my seat, the plane’s captain came down the aisle, looking at the aisle numbers as he walked. I noticed he was looking at the numbers only on my side of the plane. When he got to my seat, he stopped, smiled, and, holding out his hand, said, “I want to shake your hand.”

Quickly unfastening my seat belt, I stood and took the captain’s hand. In a booming voice he said, “I was a soldier, and I was a pilot. Someone once bought me lunch. It was an act of kindness I never forgot. Thank you.”

I sat down embarrassed by the applause of passengers sitting nearby.

Later I walked to the front of the plane to stretch my legs. About six rows in front of me a man reached out to shake my hand. He left another $25 in my palm.

When we arrived in Chicago, I gathered my belongings and started to deplane. Waiting just inside the door was a man who stopped me, put something in my shirt pocket, turned, and walked away without saying a word. Another $25.

Upon entering the terminal, I saw the soldiers gathering for their trip to Great Lakes Base. I walked over to them and handed them $50. “Here,” I said. “By the time you reach base it’ll be time for another meal. God bless you.”

Ten young men left that flight feeling the love and respect of their fellow travelers. As I walked to my car I whispered a prayer for their safe return. They were giving their all for their country. I could give them only a couple meals. It seemed so little.

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