A priest stranded at an airport

Mission Life

A priest stranded at an airport

By Glenmary Father John S. Rausch

Another one of Murphy’s Laws: All flights from home go smoothly; returning flights get delayed.

I flew to Gainesville, Florida, to officiate a wedding for a parish family I knew since 1972 in Norton, Virginia. For Glenmary priests, pastoral ministry focuses on relationships.

I awoke Sunday morning after the wedding to blue skies facing a skip to Atlanta and a jump to Lexington.  Home, guaranteed by 3:30 p.m. mid-afternoon.

My first flight even landed fifteen minutes early in Atlanta, and my connecting gate was a stroll away.  Then I noticed the screen projected a 21-minute delay for the Lexington flight.  How precise airports get.  Oops!  Add another 10 minutes.

Finally: “OK, let’s board.”

Poor Cousins, like me, were last to board.  I schlepped my bag onto the plane and found an empty bin before squeezing into my assigned window seat.

“This is the captain from the flight deck.  We’ve developed a slight problem.  This plane on its way to Atlanta seems to have lost three ‘static stabilizers.’  The maintenance crew thinks it’s an easy fix and you can see them addressing the problem on the main wing at the right side of the plane.”

A modest pause.

“This is the captain again.  This type of maintenance calls for new static stabilizers that are coming by another plane, so I think we’ll deplane and you can roam the airport to relax. We’ll call you back when we’re ready.”

Deplaned and legs stretched.

Finally: “This is the Gate Agent, and as you can see from the monitor we need a new plane, and this entire flight that was scheduled for departure at 12:59 p.m., today, has now been rescheduled for 7:00 a.m., tomorrow morning.  For those who want to fly stand-by, there are still four more flights to Lexington today, ahh, but they’re all overbooked.”

I was number 18 in stand-by, so I took a voucher for a night at the Marriott Courtyard Motel.  Horizontal by 9 p.m.  Up by 3:30 a.m. and at the gate in plenty of time for the 7 a.m. flight.

It was DELAYED AGAIN an hour and fifteen minutes—in classic Murphy style!

I really try to make lemonade in situations like this.  I had numerous conversations with fellow passengers and shared humor in the calamity.

Realistically, I always feel for the moms dealing with small toddlers in these situations.  How do they keep them occupied and not wear out? They are saints!

Tragically, I also think about the refugees and immigrants struggling for a decent life. Many arrive in Glenmary parishes, worn out and traumatized.

I travel by air, they travel by foot.  Mothers with little ones face privation, violence and death to help their children to a fuller life.  To me, the whole experience of stranded in Atlanta is a metaphor about Poor Cousins in the world—and I don’t mean us middle class who are “inconvenienced” only once in a while.

The real Poor Cousins get bumped, are denied premiums and suffer delays as a matter of course.  They don’t get vouchers, or enough people to vouch for them.  They stay stranded with no hope of an early morning flight.

Aloft, the sky beams blue, cotton-fluffy clouds flow by, and verdant earth breaths life below.  I think there’s no solidarity without pain, no reflection without pause.  To engage that solidarity with the poor, it’s worth being stranded in Atlanta.