“Wanna play Tic-Tac-Toe?” I asked the young gal sitting next to me on the plane. She stared blankly. Wondering if her earbuds were stopping her from understanding me, I noted she had them in but not on as her shrug signaled she did not understand what I was asking. We spoke through gestures and this much I caught. She was from Guatemala. The language she spoke, I did not. Her dialect was from somewhere up in the mountains I’d never been and thus, our communication was limited.
With pen and paper in hand, I plunged in anyway. Drawing the four lines to form the game to which I was referring, her eyes lit up. Her high-pitched sigh indicated she was familiar with the territory we were about to enter.
Handing her the pen, she began with an O. I placed my X into position and as the game neared completion, it would soon be a win for her. Delighted she was to win me over so to speak. The second game was a win for her as well but this time, I hadn’t let her win as I’d done in the first round. She beat me fair and square! With a gleam in her eye, we finished six games. Three games went in her favor while the other three went to the “CAT.”
Her appreciation for the outreach was spoken through body language as the smile upon her face said it all. It revealed a deeper part of humanity that had been hidden with the facade of earbuds in but not on. Prior to engaging in such fashion, her fashion had been a bit isolating. Black seemed to be her choice of everything she sported from fingernails to eye makeup. Although her colorful hair indicated she appreciated a little more boldness than the rest of her attire, it was her smile that brought forth life.
It would have been easy to misread and recoil into my own private world of thoughts—creating a comfort zone that did not comfort anyone. It would have been easy to be put off by the differences between us, but truth is the distance between us was elbow-to-elbow in a tight row of three seats bound as one. I had no choice but to make contact. However, the contact made interpersonally brought light on the subject next to me as her face lit up when seen. She appeared to be a little shy and scared to go it alone on the journey for who knew where she belonged? She didn’t seem to know as of yet at her young age.
Apparently grandmas can enter into the lives of others and get away with it. Helping others feel safe is a grand calling and one that brings with it a wealth of riches mined. We can’t mine them if we mind our own business so make it your business to reach out. One just never knows which elbow next to you might need a little lift.
Soon, it was time to catch our connecting flights, but the connection made mid-air reminded me of the verse in 1 Thess. 5:11: “Therefore encourage one another…” It need not be a big planned out ordeal. It need not be a speech lifting high the cross from another’s shoulder. It might be as simple as engaging another because they walk beside you. May it be so. Amen.
Kathleen Kjolhaug, OblSB
This article was first published in Theology in the Trenches, a column written by oblate Kathleen Kjolhaug. Posted with permission. Read more articles on her blog, Theology in the Trenches.