When you step onto a plane, you never know who will be sitting next to you. Unless you’re traveling in a large party together, it is purely a matter of chance as to who sits next to you. Or is it?
I’m on a business trip, on a plane in the exit aisle seat. Next to me in the center seat is a man I noticed as he boarded. Everything about him seems precise and intentional: neatly clipped beard and hair, tanned skin, burgundy leather jacket, blue – bright blue – pants. Flamboyant is too strong a word, but what is the right term for his impeccable look?
After we take off, he talks to his friend in the window seat. Periodically, he speaks across the aisle and up one row to two young boys. After that, he periodically checks across the aisle to make sure they are eating the food he’d apparently provided for them.
I’m busy working, so I don’t pay much attention to the two guys sitting next to me. Instead, I make a quick judgment call: Two guys, both well-groomed and dressed and now two kids? I assume they are partners who have adopted these two boys.
Then I overhear them mention something about creating a devotional. Devotional?
One of the boys eventually comes over complaining about the lack of food choices. The guy next to me explains that he has nothing else for the boy and then comes another surprise: He tells the boy to go ask his mother. Off the boy trots up toward the front of the plane.
I’m definitely curious about this situation now, so I put aside my computer and the work I’d been doing and engage my neighbor more intentionally beyond brief comments about kids and picky eaters. We move through a range of subjects and I find out that my well-dressed new friend is a pastor. But not your typical one.
He started as an actor – theatrical! that was the word I was thinking about his outfit, but in a stylish way like a celebrity – on Broadway and then he got into the ministry. Most recently he produced a rock/rap version of The Passion in Jerusalem. Now he travels and preaches across the US. A fascinating person.
We have a wonderful conversation exploring issues of faith, meaningful travel and life in general. As the plane begins to land, we tell each other how much we’ve enjoyed talking to each other. He informs me that he’d given his upgraded seat in first class to his wife (wise move!) and had dreaded having to sit in a center seat. And then he shares a question to explain his delight in being stuck in that particular seat and all that we learned from each other in our conversation.
“Do you know that in the ancient Hebrew and even ancient Aramaic, there is no word for ‘coincidence’?”
As we swap business cards in the hope of some day reconnecting, I think about what his words mean.
If everything is God’s then things like where we are and who we meet don’t happen by accident. Even when we make wrong assumptions (as I did) or think something will turn out worse than it does (as he did), God has a way of bringing together exactly what we need when and where we need it but often in the most unusual of ways.
So next time you experience an encounter on a trip that you think of as chance or coincidence, well, you might just want to think again.