This past Wednesday evening, the day after Christmas, I sat at my desk, staring intently at the monitor of the computer. There, amidst frozen swirling splotches of green, yellow, purple and blue, rested a stationary icon — a tiny orange airplane with a pink line emanating from the tail. All of this was superimposed on a map of the eastern United States. The software was tracking American Airlines flight 1581, en route from Bradley International Airport to Dallas, Texas.
I had a special interest in this flight, because my eldest son was on board. He had come home for Christmas. As always, the time was short; and so we made the best of the three days we had together. After a final meal of smoked ham and sweet potatoes, I drove him to the airport to catch his flight. Because of the impending storm, it was delayed nearly two hours; but unlike many other flights that evening, it was not canceled.
After I returned home from the airport, my youngest daughter went out to get gas in her car. Meantime, the snow had begun to fall.
My other daughter, sick with a nagging cough for the past two weeks, telephoned in a panic. She couldn’t stop coughing — she could barely get out the words over the phone — and she wanted to know what to do.
In the midst of this hubbub I had opened another browser window on the computer. Intermittently, I read Maureen Dowd’s NY Times column “Why, God?” In view of the recent spate of violence in Newtown and elsewhere, Dowd had asked a special guest to offer some thoughts on the holiday season.
Father Kevin O’Neil has shown himself to be especially understanding at the bedside of the dying. This is particularly poignant, because by his own admission Father Kevin feels woefully inadequate at such times. Indeed, he relates the story of how, early on in his career, he was called to minister to a family who had just lost their 3-year-old daughter to a sudden illness. The family was from Peru; they spoke little English, and Father Kevin spoke little Spanish. Nonetheless, he came and sat with these parents, offered what words of comfort he could muster, and stayed with them in the hospital over the course of the night. In the end the young couple seemed grateful for his presence.
Father Kevin writes that in his opinion, God manifests his presence through his people. In a very real sense God works through individual human beings to minister to a broken world.
I found some solace in Father Kevin’s words that night as I stared at the updated progress of my son’s flight on the computer monitor, as I first listened to and then advised my sick daughter what to do, as I watched the snow descend outside the window, knowing that my youngest daughter was out there somewhere on the road in the darkness.
One hour later I called my sick daughter to find that her cough had settled. My youngest daughter texted that she was driving home, taking it slow because of the snow. By then the tiny orange airplane icon on the computer monitor had passed beyond the borders of the green-yellow-purple-blue cloud.
I breathed a sigh of relief. On the map there was no discernible weather from Louisville to Dallas.
I picked up the cellphone and drafted a text message. “Tracking your flight online. Looks like the worst weather is behind you now. Should be all clear to Dallas. Safe home.”