Friday, November 30, 2018


Legs stretched out, I-Pad open to a page turner mystery novel, I sat in my roomy exit row window seat ready for a relaxing flight home from North Bend, a small town in Oregon.  It was takeoff time and I was congratulating myself for the good luck that the aisle seat was vacant and I would have plenty of elbow and shoulder room during the flight. I would read and maybe even doze a bit. The flight attendant shut the hatch behind the last passenger to board.   He was a tall man, about six feet three, 275 pounds, wide shouldered, in his mid-sixties.  He was casually dressed, jeans, red wool plaid shirt and Nikes.

The flight was not full. Indeed, the man passed an empty row as he approached. I wondered why he didn’t sit in that row, which he’d have all to himself.  But no, he continued down the aisle, eyeing the seat numbers beneath the luggage compartments and, yes, stopped at my row. He checked his boarding pass, uttered, “Ah, here I am,” and plopped down beside me.

Yes, here he was, his shoulder invading my space.  I leaned against the cabin wall and focused on my novel, praying I’d avoid a tiresome conversation. He opened a paperback book and started to read.  Relieved, I sighed a quiet “thank you Lord,” and returned to my novel.

We were about 10 minutes into the flight when he closed his book, looked my way and asked, "What brought you to North Bandon?" 

I considered but abandoned the smart-ass answer, "an airplane," closed my e-book and resigned myself to spending the flight conversing with this stranger. Think positive. He might be interesting. I might learn something, I mused.

“I’ve been golfing at Bandon Dunes. I’m on my way home to Oakland. Do you live in San Francisco?”

"Oh, no, I live in North Bend. I have a connection at SFO to San Diego.  I'm on my way there to help our new youth pastor move to North Bend.  I’ll drive a truck packed with his furniture.  He and his wife will follow along in their car.””

“A church in North Bend?”

“Yes, First Baptist Church.”

“Are you the pastor?”

“I’m a member.  Once I was a Baptist pastor.  For 25 years.”

Oh, my Gawd, I thought. I'm stuck on this plane for an hour with this red neck, right wing, small- town Southern Baptist who probably was defrocked. Probably a Trump supporter, too.  I have nothing in common with this guy. What in the world can we talk about?   I knew that for the next hour I’d have to keep my far-left mouth shut, refrain from politics and certainly not discuss my church’s open arms to the LGBT community.

So, I proceeded safely.  "My son was a youth pastor. Now he’s the senior pastor at a Presbyterian church in Corvallis.”

Perhaps that information made him feel comfortable and safe to volunteer what I found to be really surprising.

 “Our new youth pastor is married to a Jamaican woman.”

 "Is she ...?"  I had stupidly nearly asked if she were black.  Of course, she was black.  "I mean, does the congregation know she’s black?"

“Oh yes. The congregation voted overwhelmingly to call this young man to shepherd the youth of our church.  We’re really excited to welcome him and his wife.”

This revelation put the lie to my biased pre-judgment of this stranger as a small-town bigot with whom I had nothing in common. Now I felt safe.  I told him that I had adopted black twins, had a black grandson and had been a civil rights lawyer for 40 years. Then we proceeded to chat about his church and North Bend and I learned, happily, that the pastor’s wife would not be the only black in North Bend.

After the plane landed and we were collecting our things, I turned to him and said,
“I’ve got to confess something.  When you told me that you lived in North Bend and were a retired Baptist preacher, I figured you for a small town, biased, right-winger. I decided that we had nothing in common, nothing to talk about. I apologize. I was so wrong. The fact is that I learned something important about me by talking to you.
“What was that?”

“That I, not you, was the biased one.”

“Well,” he said, smiling, “We haven’t talked about Trump.”

“And that’s a blessing,” I replied. 

We laughed, shook hands and went our separate ways.

(c) Kerry Gough 2018

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