I will never love to fly. Something about sitting in a four-hundred-ton aluminum crate cruising at five-hundred miles per hour several miles above the earth makes no sense to me. My mind says it's impossible. So you can say I'm a skeptic.
I've heard all the arguments of aerodynamics. Many times I've read explanations of thrust, drag, lift and pressure. A pilot friend of mine says that air is a fluid. I just don't believe it. What will it take for me to be convinced? Another Hank Cooper encounter could do the trick.
“Hi, looks like I have the window seat. I'll just squeeze in here. Name's Hank Cooper. Nasty weather for flying, huh?”
“Is it? Bad weather for flying, I mean? This is my first time. I'm Rafe Miller. You fly much?” I hated that my hands were sweating when I reached out to accept his handshake.
“Far too much, Rafe. Good to meet you. You're not worried about flying, are you?”
“I like my feet on the ground. Don't know why I agreed to get on this plane in the first place. Brother's Las Vegas wedding. Don't know what all the fuss is about; it's not his first. But, he insisted I be there.”
“Oh, you'll be fine. Just relax and you'll be in Las Vegas before you know it.”
I never saw the plane lift off; my eyes were closed. When I was finally aware that we were in the air, I turned to see Hank looking with wonder out the window.
“I never get tired of looking at God's creation, do you?”
“What? Oh... I don't believe in that God stuff.”
Hank turned to look at me. “You don't believe in God?”
“Guess not. Never made any sense to me. So you can say I'm a skeptic, an agnostic or atheist or something. Anyway, I'm not religious.” It was then I noticed Hank's Bible he had taken out of his carry-on. Just my luck to be seated next to a Bible-thumper. Why couldn't it have been the fat lady with the baby?
“Well, I'll have to pray for you, Rafe. You're missing out on life's greatest gift.”
“Help yourself. I just don't want to hear it.” I let my seat back and closed my eyes.
The noise of passengers and flight attendants began to die down as I relaxed. After a few minutes I was beginning to think that my fear of flying would be a thing of the past. Nothing to it. Why had I been so afraid?
“This is your Captain speaking. Looks like we're in for some turbulence. We'll be gaining altitude to miss most of it. Please, keep your seat belts fastened and stay in your seats.”
I was no longer relaxed or second-guessing my fear of flying; I was terrified.
Hank's bifocals were down low on his nose, his head was back against a pillow and his eyes were closed. Just as I was about to wake him, the plane suddenly dropped and pitched to the left sending the contents of overhead bins, drinks, books and papers all over the passengers.
The emergency oxygen masks dropped down as the plane fought to ascend higher to pull out of the turbulence. The whole plane was shaking hard as passengers were screaming and crying.
“Oh, my God!”
“I didn't think you believed in God.” Hank's voice was calm as he fitted me with the yellow facial cup, pulling the elastic bands tight. I never took my eyes off him; I wanted his calmness to penetrate me.
“Breathe, Rafe. God's got your attention.”
“What? Oh, yeah. I guess. Aren't you afraid?” I had to pull the mask away to speak.
“I'm afraid for you. If this is my last day on earth, it will be my first in Heaven. Jesus will be waiting for me.”
“How can you know that?” I almost screamed at him.
“I've been waiting on you to ask.” Between deep breaths, Hank shared his faith with me. Told me about his relationship with Jesus and the free gift of eternal life. I listened as he prayed for me, stopping just long enough to breathe into the mask and then back to the prayer. At some point, I joined him. I asked Jesus to save me.
Breathe new life, Rafe. You've just been born.
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