February 9, 2011

A Child, a Mother, and the Spirit

I don’t know how he got there. When I arrived, he was already sitting in a corner of the terminal. He truly was an old man, staring intently out the floor-to-ceiling windows of the airport terminal at the bright sun peeking through trees. There was nothing remotely memorable about him. As I walked by, he simply smiled.
I was preoccupied, having made a terrifying realization: I didn’t bring a book to read during this flight. I had just enough time to visit a book shop at the terminal. While I was searching for reading material to entertain my thoughts, a crowd of travelers flooded the gate area. When I returned, I found that my seat was occupied.
As I scanned the gate area, my eyes found a tender portrait: a mother, carefully helping her child open a small juice box while he ate apple slices. Breakfast. She spoke softly, alerting him to the napkins. The setting was just right. The sunlight, streaming through the windows, shone on nurture and innocence.
2011 1504 page23However, in her care the mother was oblivious to the elements and kept glancing toward the corner of the terminal, as if she had misplaced a precious item. Following her line of sight, I noticed she was watching the old man. He was still there with a few empty seats around him. I was tempted to move. Instead, I stood still, missing the obvious.
Picking up their breakfast, the mother held her child’s hand and walked over to the lonely old man. “Excuse me, sir, my son and I were sitting over there having breakfast, and I was wondering if we could join you for breakfast?”
He smiled, and with a glint in his eyes and a hoarse voice said, “It would be an honor.” He extended a hand to the child. A trembling deformed hand.
They all sat together. The mother ensured her child was safe and entertained. Then she carefully lifted an object I had not seen: a small paper bag belonging to the old man. She pulled out of it a hot drink and a bagel. It had been there all along, his breakfast. I watched as the mother, a complete stranger, helped the man as he, with trembling hand, attempted to grab the cup for a sip. Everyone around probably assumed they were an extended family of sorts.
Obvious necessities in life: nourishment of the body, nourishment of the soul. In a reflective moment I was made conscious of the obvious: there is always a need to help one another. What I need to recognize is the nudge, the movement of the Holy Spirit urging me to participate in the obvious.
The first boarding call was heard overhead. Anyone who needed special assistance was to board first. The mother assured the old man she would find someone to help them. His smile showed gratitude and relief. The attendants arrived and escorted him into the plane. I waited for a minute, tempted to address the mother. The moment passed.
“Can we go to our gate now? There’s not that many people anymore,” said the child, pointing to a terminal out of sight.

Taking the child’s hand, the mother replied, “Yes, we can.” They weren’t even meant to be in the same gate as he was.
I was reminded of a song: “When it all comes down, if there is anything good that happens in life, it’s from God.” Being a servant of choice includes a purpose that seems quite simple: What can I do today? Where will the Holy Spirit lead me today? While the answer may not appear to be obvious, searching for it seems like the only logical thing to do. The Holy Spirit continues to be active within God’s creation. If we look carefully, we will see Him. We experience Him. We may become a part of a genuine experience of service. In the very obvious there is an extraordinary opportunity for us to bring light into darkness and comfort into grief.
Inside the plane I walked past the old man and asked him, “How was the breakfast?”
He smiled and said, “It was a good breakfast!”
Dixil L. Rodríguez is an English professor and volunteer hospital chaplain who lives in Texas. This article was published February 10, 2011.