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Learning to love at 30,000 feet

A Christian Science perspective.

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“Ladies and gentlemen, the captain has turned off the fasten-seatbelt sign, and you are now free to move about the cabin,” came the familiar announcement over the airplane’s intercom. I was seated behind the bulkhead with no place to stow my laptop briefcase during takeoff, except in the overhead bin.

As I got up to retrieve it, I saw it had been moved and other items piled on top of it. I also noticed the man seated behind me glaring angrily. As I began extricating my bag, he berated me. “Your briefcase crushed the suit in my garment bag,” he snapped.

The memory of this event came flooding back to me as I heard about a flight attendant’s extreme “meltdown” following a profanity-laced altercation with a passenger over use of an overhead bin.

That incident underscores just how trying airline travel has become for many, including flight attendants. With airlines now charging for checked baggage, carry-on space bulges with even more suitcases on wheels. It can seem remarkable that disagreements over stowage space aren’t more common.

As I stood holding my laptop in the aisle on the plane, I could feel self-justification building. I knew I hadn’t placed my case on top of any other bag. I thought, Who does he think he is, accusing me of something I didn’t do? No one could tell there was a suit in that bag. And he should have taken better care of it in the first place. It was all I could do to hold my tongue and return to my seat.

Sitting there burning inside, I realized quickly that I could either spend an entire flight indulging feelings of self-justification and self-righteousness, or I could pray.

In that moment I humbly turned to God and asked, “Father, help me see this man the way You see him – through the eyes of divine Love.” It didn’t take long for me to begin to realize this man’s spiritual identity, and my own, was not that of an angry traveler but a loved and loving expression of God. And I needed to let go of justifying my actions, because in doing so I was actually condemning him.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Christ Jesus taught, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:44, 45). To me, blessing and doing good to one’s enemies is more than simply letting go of anger, reaction, or resentment – it is active forgiveness, a willingness to acknowledge who they truly are, sinless and perfect in the eyes of God.

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I vowed to spend the rest of the flight not only forgiving the man behind me but also embracing everyone on that plane in thoughts of love. It was a wonderfully joyful time. I felt so full of love that nothing else mattered.

I found another spot for my bag during landing, and the man and I never spoke again. But I knew that my prayer of love had done its work. This was proved to me as I left the airport. I encountered someone I’d not seen in years and with whom I’d had some difficult relations. Without hesitation, we greeted each other with genuine warmth, love, and mutual good will.

In an article titled “Love your enemies,” Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Monitor, wrote that enemies can truly be our best friends. “Primarily and ultimately, they are doing thee good far beyond the present sense which thou canst entertain of good,” she said (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” p. 9).

I may never know the full effect of my prayers that day. But as I went on my way, I realized that the man on the plane had unwittingly been my friend. He prompted me to spend that flight praying to be more loving, which thoroughly prepared me for the healing encounter at the airport.

Whether we find ourselves at 30,000 feet or going about our daily routine at home, the transforming power of divine Love, expressed in forgiveness, is present to resolve disagreements.

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