Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Luggage (08/15/05)
TITLE: My Father's House
By James Ratcliff
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A year or two later, Dad was eagerly planning a return trip to Merida. Always the optimist, he bought a ticket on the same carrier. “Lightning never strikes the same person twice in the same place,” he explained. His luggage was not lost, but greater surprises than lost luggage were to come on that awful and wonderful passage. The greatest wonder of all would not be revealed to me until many years after the events of that day.
My father’s first trip to Merida was on a nonstop flight out of Atlanta. The second trip was on a flight that made a stop in Cozumel. Passengers continuing on to Merida were required to clear Mexican Customs in the airport terminal before reboarding. By the time Dad realized he was not in Merida, the plane was lifting off the runway. The next commercial flight to Merida was the next day. No airport agency would rent him a car to drive to Merida. Cozumel is an island.
“Sir!” the airline employee called out as she ran up to my father. “Are you the person who needs to get to Merida today? Come on. Run!” Suitcase in hand, Dad was told to climb aboard a small propeller plane that had been converted into a makeshift air ambulance. The American newspaper reporter lying unconscious on the cabin floor was named Joan.
“Hold this up,” said the other woman, Jacky, as she placed an intravenous bottle in my father’s hand. He held it for the duration of the flight. The wind-battered plane landed in Merida more than 3 hours later, flying just above the treetops to minimize the pressure on Joan’s fractured skull.
She survived. Everyone called it a miracle. The neurosurgeon in Merida who saved Joan’s life had been trained at the University of Tennessee; one of his closest friends in Knoxville was now Dad’s neighbor and friend in nearby Bristol. The connections go on and on.
Whatever lesson I thought I had learned that day, I did not learn well. Dad never talked about the spiritual significance of what happened; I would not have listened if he had. I was a “spiritual seeker” of sorts, dabbling in everything from Mayan mythology to Zen—everything, that is, except the Christianity of my youth that I had abandoned years before. In the meantime, I had conveniently convinced myself that I was a “good man.” I had no need for an archaic religion that was, in my words, “running on empty.” Notions such as “eternal damnation” and “redemption from sin” were as foreign to my way of thinking as the nonsensical Spanish sounds ringing in my head the day I first saw Merida.
After more than two decades in Mexico, I have attained a level of proficiency in Spanish that usually redeems my deep-rooted Anglo-American accent. My Spanish is quite good, I am told. Yet I still stumble on a syllable now and then, still fumble a phoneme here and there. To cite a case in point, look up the Spanish word for luggage and you will find the word “equipaje.” In the middle of a stream of thought, unable to recall the right term, I habitually fall back on one of the first words I learned in Spanish, “maleta”—suitcase—a word I have mispronounced on more than one occasion as “muleta,” which means crutch.
There is a time to throw away crutches. When I came to understand this, I shuddered at the horror of my captivity. And like Nehemiah, I mourned and fasted and prayed, confessing the sins that I and my father’s house have committed against the God of heaven (Nehemiah 1:4-6). These unconfessed sins, the secret sins I refused to recognize as sins, were my crutch and my confinement, my bondage and burden. The truth has set me free at last. That is the greatest wonder of all.
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