I got back from vacation in Rome just last night, and I had some pretty intense experiences with God that I want to share in the next few posts throughout the week – but I’ll start with something small from last night.
When my husband and I disembarked from our flight from Italy in Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, we had to go through customs. For the most part, this was a sane process, and then The Accident happened: right in front of the TSA checkpoint, an airport employee opened up a barrier so that people could start lining up to go through the security screening.
This doesn’t seem like a big deal until I tell you that the airline employee had opened the line in front of an empty and completely defunct TSA checkpoint with no one there to staff it, and that at least 100 people (including my husband and I) had already been shepherded into it despite the fact that it was literally going nowhere. This on top of the fact that at least another 400 people had been funneled into the only two checkpoint lines that were open.
In short: my husband and I and about 100 other people were trapped in TSA purgatory, unable to go through screening (which wasn’t manned) and unable to proceed into the other lines which were now choked with people. TSA employees cordoned us off and talked about what to do with us and time passed…and passed…and passed…
And people were angry. Muttering. Wondering why the employees weren’t doing anything about the situation. It was roughly 900 degrees in the customs area, everyone was sweaty, and we’d all just gotten off of long-haul flights from overseas (ours was 11 hours long). We were miserable and starving and frustrated. And then we all watched as a young woman, in tears, came forward to beg the TSA employees to do something, anything, to open the line. “My flight to Jamaica,” she said, “it leaves in twenty minutes. I’m going to miss it if I have to wait here, please.” She showed her boarding pass.
The TSA agent looked at her and calmly said, “I don’t care. It’s not my job to care.”
And then – in a room full of people nearly boiling with anger and frustration and pent-up irritation – a man a few people in front of us raised his hand. “She can go in front of me,” he said. “I have some time before my next flight.” Another woman in front of him nodded, saying she was going to miss her flight anyway and didn’t want someone to miss a chance at Jamaica. My husband and I added our voices to the group. Beside us, grandmotherly-looking woman demanded that they let “that little girl go in front of me.” Before long, a chorus of twenty people were offering to let the hapless woman pass by.
Out of anger, grace. Instead of frustration, an offer to help. Somehow in the middle of that sweaty, crowded, customs area, people forget about themselves for just a minute to give a little grace to someone else.
Here were other things that happened at the airport last night:
- an airport employee heaving a bunch of baggage into a giant cart and sweating as he pushed it down a hall stopped what he was doing and abandoned his post to tell me my shoe was untied and he wanted me to be careful so I didn’t trip
- on the airport train, a man in a wheelchair grabbed the arm of a nearby elderly woman and helped keep her from falling when the train sped up, even though it meant spilling his drink
- the girl at the airport Chik-Fil-A ran out from behind the counter to chase down a man who’d dropped his fleece jacket while he was in line
- a woman abandoned her own reading to make faces at someone else’s crying baby until he finally started to laugh, much to the relief of his mother
It’s all little stuff, I know. Putting down a book, leaving the register, stopping work for a second, giving up a spot in line, spilling a drink. But it’s also the accumulation of those seemingly insignificant moments that registers deeply to the parched heart as grace.
Sometimes as believers we think of Jesus’ sacrifice and it’s so easy to become overwhelmed because it was so big. And it was. Unfathomably big! We’re not going to match it because we can’t. What God sacrificed to allow us to be near Him is, in reality, probably not something we will ever fully understand. At least not here.
But on our end? We can start with little things. A gesture here, a moment there, a brief and quickening turning-away from the self. It’s not just a good ministry – it’s good for the soul, and to remind us that what happens to us is not always as important as what we can make happen for others.