Sometimes it pays to be nosy. The first leg of my journey to Iraq initiated at Waco Regional Airport. I am fortunate to live ten minutes from an American Eagle stop that allows me to hop over to Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport. From there I can travel, quite literally, anywhere in the world. An aisle seat is priority due to a goodly measure of claustrophobia, so I settled contentedly into 13B just before being joined by my window seat companion for the forty minute flight to DFW. I stood as best I could in the cramped quarters while a wiry man with a full head of silver hair excused himself and squeezed by. We sat at the same time. Angling his torso toward me he extended his hand and said, “Hi, I’m Brian,” as if we were old friends renewing acquaintance. I told Brian my name, then turned my attention to securing my seatbelt and ignoring the stodgy flight attendant who sped through the obligatory motions of preparing us for flight with her mind and personality obviously elsewhere. I turned back to speak to Brian, but saw that his eyes were closed and head drooped several inches. This provided opportunity to study my row mate. He traveled light, with nothing more than a black leather briefcase in the overhead bin. He sat with his slightly cramped knees at an awkward height, and in his lap lay a thick set of musical scores labeled Études by Frédéric Chopin that contained extensive notes in the right hand margin. I’m no musical connoisseur, but even I could decipher that this was not your average hymn book. Curious but attempting to avoid being conspicuous, I watched for an open eyelid. About halfway through our brief flight an eyelid raised and I seized the opening. “Excuse me Brian. I couldn’t help noticing the classical score in front of you. Are you by any chance with the Waco Symphony?”
He identified himself as the special guest pianist who played with the Waco Symphony Orchestra the previous night. My wife’s employer offers us Symphony tickets from time-to-time and had done so the day before, but we declined because of my flight to Iraq the following day. Last minute preparations did not accommodate an evening with Beethoven, as pleasant as that would have been. Dressed in jeans and a green sweater, Brian just as comfortably eased into pleasant conversation above the din of the Embraer jet engines. I asked about his life as a concert pianist, and he explained that he loves teaching piano at a university as much as playing before vast audiences. Conversation flowed so effortlessly that the flight ended much too soon. As providence would have it, we discovered that we would be on the same flight later that morning to Washington D.C. He lives a stone’s throw from the hotel where I would spend the night before heading back to the airport to catch my flight to Iraq. Brian wished me well as we walked up the transit-way to the terminal. I voiced the same and we parted company.
Two hours later I sat at gate C31 awaiting my turn to board the flight to Dulles International. I looked for and saw Brian across the way, and walked over to speak to him. He politely returned my greeting, then apologized that he did not have time to visit because he was preparing for a concert he would perform the next evening. We shook hands and I walked back to where I stood before, waiting for the announcement that would signal my group to board. A short time later the flight attendant announced “Group 6” over the intercom, and I shuffled my way into the plane with the mosaic of strangers pushing their way onboard. I stowed my carry on in the overhead bin and lowered myself into aisle seat 27B, watching the single file parade of passengers to see who would sit next to me for this flight. I recognized Brian far up the line and turned my attention back to the others approaching my row. All of them passed until Brian stood next to me. He smiled affably then said, “You’re not going to believe this.” I stood to allow him to pass through to his window seat, then we sat, laughing at our inside joke. This time he asked what I do for a living, and I described my work for an international relief organization, stressing the immense fulfillment I find in my role. I explained my work as more “calling” than employment. Brian said he sees our missions as very similar. As he plays the piano, he seeks to invoke divine mystery for his listeners, bringing them into close proximity with the Creator of music. Brian likes to quote the English writer Aldous Huxley, “After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” He went on to say, “It has been my good fortune to spend my life immersed in the world of music, and thus draw closer to the inexpressible.” For the next few hours I dozed while Brian mentally practiced Chopin’s Études that he was to play the next evening. He would look up, close his eyes, hear the music in his mind, feel the piano keys through imagination, then write a note in the margin of the score. The process was fascinating. As we approached Dulles, I could not avoid thinking that sitting next to Brian twice in the same day was no coincidence. I did not know how, but recognized God at work, so I turned to Brian and asked if I might pray for him. He thanked me and I prayed:
“Father, grant Brian the deep seated desire of his heart. Keep his hands and heart healthy. May multitudes upon multitudes be blessed by the gift you’ve given him. May they be drawn to you through his God-given artistry.”
The plane landed on schedule, but I continued to contemplate my unscheduled conversation with a concert pianist. We gathered our few belongings, disembarked together, then shook hands and said to each other that we hope to stay in touch. I walked toward my hotel shuttle, deep in thought and appreciation that I did not miss out on this “chance” encounter.
What is under your nose? Who is next to you? Are you available if God prompts into action? Feel free to look around, but pay strict attention to that which lies closest at hand. Unexpected treasure may be within reach. God’s plan always involves people, so remain alert for unexpected opportunities to laugh, listen, affirm, and pray for others who are living out God’s plan for their own lives, whether they know it or not.