He was in his 30s I’d guess, fit and tall, wearing jeans and a plain T-shirt. By the time I took the aisle seat next to his window seat, he was already plugged in to his iPod with his eyes closed. We were on our way to Indiana from the Denver airport.
I had attended a church conference in Denver, staying a few extra days to visit with friends. The conference had really struck a chord with me and challenged me to act on what I already knew my purpose to be. I was overwhelmed with the sense of mission about bringing my church into line with the loving God I knew, to welcome the LGBT community with genuine grace.
I had no idea how I would do this. I didn’t know where to start. I tried to read the book in front of me, which reinforced with every paragraph that I had to act on what I knew was right. I was reeling with the thoughts racing in my head about this new feeling. I knew what it was. It was a call. My heart was pounding and my eyes were starting to tear.
I had no one with whom to talk. I looked up from my book after staring blankly at the pages for who knows how long. I glanced at the man next to me, who still seemed fully absorbed in his music, eyes closed. But that’s when I noticed that his leg was pressing against mine. Not just touching; gently pressing, thigh and calf. It had happened so gradually that I didn’t notice until then.
This was not a come-on or a mistake. Perhaps he'd glimpsed my distress. His touch felt like reassurance. He stayed still and quiet but continued to press his leg to mine, and he stayed that way for the duration of the trip until the plane landed. That connection calmed me. It was like someone was holding my hand. This stranger gave me comfort that I could easily have rejected, but I needed it.
When we landed, the man gathered his few things together and sat up. Whenever I looked at him, he was looking elsewhere, and he left without speaking when we deplaned. It was an unusual experience, clearly one I’ve never forgotten.
The stranger on a plane is the person to whom we’ll unburden our souls, the one who takes a small part of our worries with him when he leaves. This man did the same, without a single word or glance being exchanged. I have no idea if he intended what I inferred, but he gave me what I needed at the time. I pray that I can be that stranger on a plane for others whenever I travel.