Eighteen-and-a-half hours on the same plane? I have to admit that was a record for me as I traveled from Johannesburg, South Africa to Washington D.C. with a one-hour non-disembarkation stop in Dakar, Senegal. I’m used to 15 ½ hours on the same aircraft, but this was rather brutal. The additional three hours are a killer. What’s more, that prolonged torture at 38,000 ft. commenced after a 2 ½ hour flight from Lusaka, Zambia and before a final 3 ½ hour flight to Denver with just over an hour connection time between them all. Yep, I had spent at least 22 of the last 24 hours in the air, zooming across nine time zones, constantly trying to find a non-existent position of comfort, watching stale movies that I’ve already seen three times, and visiting a tiny smelly bathroom where people mistake the wall and floor for the hole.
Even though the South African Airways plane, an Airbus A340-600, is apparently the longest commercial aircraft in service, longer than the original flight distance covered by the Wright brothers I’m told, I was stuck in cramped quarters with a rather large passenger sitting next to me who had little sense of personal space. I don’t mind being a pillow, but I prefer that the person resting their head on my shoulder is either my wife or has at least been granted explicit permission beforehand. And it also helps if the person has showered ahead of time. Yes, that has to be a requirement and this particular person hadn’t met it. I had visited slums in South Africa and Zambia on this trip, slums where families of ten share 100 sq. ft. of hot sweaty space, but at least they know each other and can walk outside if need be.
The public address system, referred to as the passenger announcement system by South African Airways, interrupted the video monitors occasionally with the capitalized subtitle "PA IN PROGRESS" as flight attendants passed on relevant information and cautions. The PA and IN were set surprisingly close to each other, giving a more applicable title to the broadcasts.
I have a love-hate relationship with travel. I’ve flown over one million miles in the past fifteen years and it opens up conduits to other worlds, worlds of exotic adventures, cultural delights and emotional highs. But it means paying the piper with preservative-laden airline food and precious time spent away from my sweet family, not to mention the loopy jet lag they have to witness when I get back home. They understand why I do it and, quite frankly, suffer more pain than I do while I’m away. One of our children always gets sick, something always breaks, and the juggling of balls and spinning of plates become almost too much to bear.
I greatly appreciate my wife, the sweetheart I call, LOML. I couldn’t do what I do if she didn’t do what she does. Yes, she’s been to India, Uganda and China with me and the whole family has joined me in Mexico, Thailand, Taiwan, Laos, Burma and Peru on multiple trips, but Lisa is my rock that keeps the home fires burning while I cut through bush and dusty roads to see the faces of orphans and hug widows succumbing to AIDS. She opens up new vistas for me and has made my life much richer as a result.
My colleagues and dear friends, Mike and Scott, have penned poems and love letters to their wives while away, posting them on their blogs as a public proclamation of their love. I have to admit, I feel cheated. After all, I love writing poetry and I’ve crafted my fair share of make-you-weak-at-your-knees love letters in the past, but they beat me to the punch. How dare they do that to me? They should have checked with me first, don’t you think? Not that it’s a competition or copy-cat scenario of reduced luster, but I feel that I’m now walking a trail they have already cleared. I’d rather be on the path less traveled…or where there is no path at all.
Regardless, I swallow my pride and now do what I should have done hundreds of blog posts ago. I take this opportunity to thank my bride and to tell her here, in the presence of thousands of blog viewers, as a public announcement in progress, that:
LOML, I love you dear and thank you for the sacrifices you have made for me to serve in ministry, to honor the call God has given me. As we endure the continual progress of pain – of separation – know that we are always together and thoughts of you are always with me. I love you and appreciate you, honey! Thousands of orphans and widows now have families because of your work, your involvement in this most precious of tasks. I can’t wait to see them all give you a hug on the day when we are all around the throne, that day where we will never again be parted, where we will never again experience the pain of farewells and well wishes. The spoils and crowns are yours! For without you, I couldn’t have even caught a glimpse of them. But the greatest treasure is the sparkle in your eyes upon my return – the diamond pools of gladness and relief. I’d travel a million more miles to keep experiencing that, to know that I’m loved and missed, to know that half of my soul is in delight as it reunites with its elated other half. I’m glad to walk this journey of many winding trails with you, darling, both hand-in-hand and heart-in-heart.
And I’ll be your pillow anytime, shower or not.