The kid was tired, rubbing his eyes with tiny fists, lips quivering as tears began to well up because he couldn’t get comfortable. Who can, really? Airplanes aren’t designed for comfort, even if you snag an upgrade.
Imagine being an infant surrounded by strangers while crammed into a middle seat in a metal tube barreling through the sky at 575 mph. I’d cry too.
I’ve flown with my daughter many times. As she has gotten older, squirmier and more aware of the limit placed on her, flights have gotten harder.
I knew how the mom holding that screaming little boy felt. She looked tired, nervous and almost embarrassed.
Would someone shush them, shoot them a dirty look as they slammed on their headphones? Would the flight attendant ask her to stand in the back, giving the passengers around her a reprieve? And would the baby ever stop crying?
It was the kind older lady next to them who saved the day, as she started playing peekaboo with the 1-year-old. She made him giggle, a sound that filled the plane with the joy that only a baby laugh can produce. She smiled at the mom and said, “I did this once. … You’re doing great”; no condemnation, simply calm and comfort.
When we landed, a man asked the mom if he could carry her bags so she could concentrate on carrying her son, who had finally fallen asleep. As she grabbed her stroller, the flight attendant helped her buckle the baby so she could put on her backpack and make sure she didn’t leave anything behind.
Airplanes and airports are places where the fullness of humanity is on display, both the good and the bad.
On that day, I saw the fullness of patience, kindness and charity as strangers rallied together to help this mom traveling alone with her son. A situation far from comfortable became a school of compassion. That airplane became a theater of the goodness of humanity, the love of which we are capable.
It’s easy to assume the worst about each other. It’s easier to ignore the people around us, those who may be in need, who place a demand upon us simply by existing. Why care about anyone else around me? That takes work, and work is hard.
The devil wants us to believe that the work we have to do for and with other people is too difficult to accomplish, so we should just never start. He lies to us and tells us we aren’t capable.
That lie, straight from hell, is precisely what Jesus came to cast out. That lie, that other people are too much work, is destroyed by the truth proclaimed by Jesus, that we’re not only called to serve others, but to love them. And in loving them, we proclaim the Gospel.
While we think that love means lofty gestures of grandiose goodness, it’s as the saint celebrated this month of October tells us — little ways of love are often the ones that make the most difference.
St. Therese of Lisieux, dead before 25, tucked away in a convent with no YouTube channel or Twitter platform, no fame or fortune, no influence or prestige, tells us that in the end “it is love alone that counts.”
In the end, it is our love that counts the most — our love that gives witness. It is our love for others that changes the world.
Jesus invites us to do the hard thing, because it is in doing so that we love as he loved, give as he gave and show the goodness of humanity to all who happen to be watching from their window seat.
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(Katie Prejean McGrady is an international Catholic speaker and author. She is project manager of Ave Explores from Ave Maria Press and logs over 100,000 travel miles a year speaking to audiences of all ages and sizes. She has her degree in theology from the University of Dallas and lives with her husband and daughter in Lake Charles, Louisiana.)