The last to board the plane from Seattle to Dallas were a woman and three children. "Oh please don't sit next to me," I thought. "I've got so much work to do." But a moment later an eleven-year-old girl and her nine-year-old brother were climbing over me while the woman and a four-year-old boy sat behind.
Almost immediately the older children started bickering while the child behind intermittently kicked my seat. Every few minutes the boy would ask his sister, "Where are we now?" "Shut up!" she'd snap and a new round of squirming and whining would ensue.
"Kids have no concept of important work," I thought, quietly resenting my predicament. Then in my mind a voice as clear as a song simply said, "Love them."
"These kids are brats, and I've got important work to do," I countered to myself. My inner voice simply replied, "Love them as if they were your children."
Having heard the "Where-are-we-now?" question repeatedly, I turned to the in-flight magazine map, in spite of my important work.
I explained our flight path, dividing it into quarter-hour flight increments and estimated when we would land in Dallas.
Soon they were telling me about their trip to Seattle to see their father who was in the hospital. As we talked they asked about flying, navigation, science and grown-ups' views about life. The time passed quickly and my "important" work was left undone.
As we were preparing to land, I asked how their father was doing now. They grew quiet and the boy simply said, "He died."
"Oh, I'm so sorry."
"Yeah, me too. But it's my little brother I'm most worried about. He's taking it real hard."
I suddenly realized what we'd really been talking about was the most important work we ever face: living, loving and growing in spite of heartbreak. When we said good-bye in Dallas the boy shook my hand and thanked me for being his "airline teacher." And I thanked him for being mine.