Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: In and Out (04/30/09)
TITLE: In and Out, Out and In
By Laurie Haag
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“What causes your soul to breathe?”
“Excuse me?” I look up at the woman sitting next to me in the plastic airport chair. She is a portly woman, stubby fingers, heavy jowls, a protruding mole just under her left eye.
“What gets you out of bed in the morning, beyond your daily routine?”
I stare at her trying not to watch her mole jiggle as she speaks. Who is this woman, this stranger? Can’t she see I’m trying to read? So much for anonymity. “I’m not sure.” I mumble turning the page of my Stephen King thriller, hoping she’ll take the hint.
“That’s a copout.” She says her voice thick with starch. “We all have a purpose, don’t we?”
I sigh heavily and set my book aside; maybe I’ll be seated next to someone a little less social on the plane. “I guess.”
“You know I’m going to visit my brother’s family.” She suddenly changes the subject. “His wife is expecting their third child.”
I remain silent. Where is she going with all this?
“A good man, my brother. A deacon in his church, even plays piano on the worship team. His wife, she teaches Sunday school, and their small group meets at their house each Tuesday.” A tear meanders down her cheek, seeping into the crevice at the corner of her mouth.
I watch as she pulls a Kleenex from her plaid shoulder bag. She could have sat next to anyone, talked to any number of people about her family, why me? If she’s looking for a place to drown her sorrows, maybe the martini bar at gate D11 would be more helpful. Besides, what is so bad about having a happy family? Church isn’t really my thing. I mean, sure I believe in God and all. I even went to Sunday school when I was small, but somehow I don’t think that’s what she’s asking me.
“I get out of bed everyday at 6:15 a.m., and I’m in bed at 9 p.m. every night, even Sundays—in and out, out and in. But that’s just routine.”
She studies me for a moment. Her watchful gaze makes me wonder if I should have taken the time to apply my usual makeup.
“You’re quite young—twenty-seven?”
“That’s young,” she smiles. “You shouldn’t waste your life. It may seem like it will go on forever, but then one day it’s in and out, in and out. Before you know it you’ve stopped living, stopped breathing.” She glances at my bare ring finger. “Not married?”
“Not yet. I guess I haven’t met my Prince Charming.” I look down at my hand. It always makes me feel small, insignificant really, when people observe my singleness.
“Prince Charming HAH!” She blurts out, her outburst catching the attention of a group of students in mission team t-shirts sitting in the next row. One girl leans over to her friend; she whispers. They’re talking about us. I wonder if it would be overtly rude to excuse myself from the conversation.
“Sweetheart, there is no Prince Charming, no Mr. Right. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. My brother, the good Christian man, the family man, his wife found him hanging from the rafters in the barn two nights ago—suicide.”
My jaw agape, I forget the gawking teenagers.
“He was a good man, a Prince Charming if you will, but then his life stopped having a purpose, in and out, in and out, and then one day he didn’t know why he was here anymore.” She dabs her eyes with the tissue. “In his note he said his soul stopped breathing.”
Chills tickle my spine. I don’t even know this man, this family, and yet something within me understands his sorrow. Life, my life—is it a reflection of his? Is it all in and out, out and in or is there something more?
“Oh my goodness, I have to go.” The woman abruptly heaves herself from her chair. “I just sat here because, well, you looked lonely, and I guess I was too. But my gate is about to board.” She thrusts her bag onto her ample shoulder while extending the handle on her carry-on luggage. “Thank you for talking with me.”
I nod blankly then watch her go, careening her small suitcase through pedestrian traffic.
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