" What do we live for, if not to make life less difficult for each other?"
- George Elliot
Whenever anyone in our family heads out on a trip, we send one another on their way with a prayer for "Traveling Mercies". A hope for encounters with the kindness of strangers as we encounter the inevitable bumps on our way from here to there. I love the term, and first heard it when I read Ann Lamott's gem, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith.
Whether traveling by planes, trains, or automobiles, getting where we're going is an exercise in grace, as we find ourselves at the mercy of almost everything. The weather. The traffic. The TSA. Overbooked flights. Underwhelming airplane meals. You name it. We're at its mercy.
And, we are at the mercy of one another.
Years ago I was traveling for work. On an airplane bound for the other coast, we began to experience bumpy air. It wasn't too bad at first, and while not a phobic flyer, I'm not a huge fan of turbulence of any sort. The captain came on, ordered the flight attendants to return to their seats (never a good sign), and advised us that we were in for a rough ride. As I was white knuckling it in my seat, I heard someone crying across the aisle. Unclenching my eyes I looked over to find a young woman about the age of my own daughters. She was shaking uncontrollably, and for the briefest of moments, her fear helped me forget my own. Defying the captain's orders, and my own good sense, I unbuckled my seat belt and lurched across the aisle into the open center seat next to her. I pried her fingers off of her arm-wrest and laced them together with my own. I didn't try and talk her out of her fear. A fat lot of good that does anyway in case you're so inclined. I didn't try and talk some reason into her by reminding her that planes are built to withstand almost anything that comes their way. An even fatter lot of good that does. And I didn't tell her it was all going to be OK, since I was pretty sure we were headed for a fiery death myself. We just clung to one another for dear life, and the tighter we held on to each other, the more the vicegrip of fear loosened its hold. 20 minutes later I was back in my seat. We didn't exchange names and phone numbers, didn't chatter about our lives back home. We just tried our best to sit back, relax, and enjoy the rest of the flight. I got off the plane grateful for a fellow traveler who helped me weather my storm, by letting me help her weather hers.
I think about that experience every time I get on a plane.
We are all just trying to make our way from here to there, hopefully, as best we can.
Traveling mercies my friends.