By Elizabeth Kelly
Some years ago I developed this little habit when traveling alone: when boarding an airplane or a train, I would ask the Lord to give me the least desirable seat, the one no one else wanted, next to the crying baby, for example. I cannot count how many times I have been seated next to a young mother traveling with a small child.
One woman was from India and had been traveling for more than 24 hours already with a baby just learning his first steps. She was clearly completely exhausted and it wasn’t long before she and her child were fast asleep. But at some point, the boy awoke and started to make for the aisle. I caught him and ended up holding him while he played with my rosary beads for at least another hour while his mother slept. When she woke up with a start looking for her son and saw him tucked in my lap playing contentedly the relief and gratitude on her face was palpable.
On another flight from Alaska to the lower 48, I was given a seat next to a very young boy traveling alone – leaving one parent to join another in another state. The flight attendant let me know this and she tended to the boy, allowing him to make a last phone call to his father with her cell phone before takeoff. It wasn’t long before we were in the air and they were selling earphones for the in-flight movie. I bought some for the boy and myself, got us plugged in and situated, and we watched a kid’s movie together. Before too long, he was asleep on me and the flight attendant, who kept careful watch, would occasionally come by to see if anything was needed. When he awoke, we played with his cars and coloring book and the 5 hour flight passed without incident. When we landed, the attendant came to escort him off the plane, and I noticed at baggage claim that he was with a woman, probably his mother, and he pointed to me as his mother leaned in to catch what he was saying. I waved and he waved back. His mother mouthed “thank you” in my direction.
Sometimes, I think we imagine that our acts of charity only count if they are bothersome and difficult. It only counts if it hurts. Maybe I have more patience for the crying child than someone else, but if I do, it is only because in that moment, I am best yoked to Christ. My burden is light only because he is carrying the lion’s share.
A Passenger from Hell
On a train trip, I got seated next to an active meth addict who was beyond obnoxious. When he found out I was Catholic, I thought for a moment his head might spin around on his neck. His behavior became even more egregious and I could see other passengers moving to other train cars or turning their backs while they turned up the volume on their headphones, disgusted by the insults he was hurling at the world in every direction. I get that, I wanted to move too. We don’t all have the same gifts and that’s all right. But that’s not a free pass to turn your back on those in need. Rather it’s an invitation to think about the ways Christ has made your burden light, the ways that you can serve others in joy that perhaps others cannot.
Lord, let me always remember that my yoke is first yours, and let me get to work.