It’s a familiar feeling: boarding an airplane, wondering who will be sitting next to you. I have decided it’s best to be surprised, so I read while people pass by. Then I hear it: “Hi, I’m sitting there,” the gesture always pointing at the seat next to mine.
This time I have a quiet one. His sweatshirt frayed at the cuffs, he reads. Our destination hours away, dinner is served. The flight attendant holds up two trays and says: “I have a chicken or cheese lasagna. You two are my last meals; the flight is full!”
My travel companion asks, “Would it be OK if I take the chicken? I need protein, for training.” His voice trails off, and I smile as the flight attendant places the trays in front of us. Once settled, we open our entrées to realize we have the incorrect ones. We casually exchange trays, and I am amused at his apologies: “I apologize about that, ma’am.” And: “Would you like any extra fruit, ma’am?”
So the conversation begins. His name is Jeremy. He is headed to Canada to begin Coast Guard training. He wants to be a Coast Guard rescue swimmer. I listen as his voice fluctuates in excitement. He is reading through homework to prepare for the first day. He will do well. He wants this bad enough.
As I pick through a questionable salad, he asks what I do for a living: college professor and volunteer hospital chaplain. He nods, yet seems unwilling to accept my answer: “If I may ask, which one is your real calling, ma’am?”
What? I look at him in surprise. Is he trying to make sense of my life choices?
“Does one have a stronger motto that inspired you?” A motto? Both have mission statements. I tell him that both professions give me tools to deal with the other.
He pulls out a small, laminated card from his jacket pocket: “So Others May Live.” This is a motto for rescue swimmers: “It reminds me why I will be in the water helping others; reminds me of the sacrifice Jesus Christ made for me. You and I, we have an awesome opportunity with those we meet.” Even at his young age, he knows the motto of life, the duty of Christians. He, too, has searched the obvious.
As the lights dim, I pull out my Bible and read through the Gospels. “So others may live.” I wonder if it is a real motto, a reminder of what needs to be done.
* * *
Five hours later I reach my destination. Jeremy still has a way to go. I wish him well and promise to keep him in my prayers.
As I wait for my ride, I pull out my Bible. There’s another bookmark in the gospels. I carefully open the Bible to where the small bookmark is. I recognize it. Underlined in the page is the section: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
I flip the small bookmark over and read the words that now have a new meaning: “So others may live.”
Dixil Rodríguez lives in Texas.