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A Wing and A Prayer

by Stephen Lautens

September 10, 1999

I had to make a trip last week that took me south of the border and through Cleveland.

I'm a pretty calm traveller. I know an airport is one of the worst places on earth. If there is a hell, it must be like an eternal departure lounge. Just like in the real world, in an infernal airport you'd be forced to drag your luggage through crowds of extended family members waiting for loved ones to arrive and blocking all exits.

Wherever you have to go to catch your flight, it will be as far as physically possible from where you are standing. As soon as you get there, they'll change your gate to back to where you started from.

All the book store will have is Stephen King novels you can't remember if you've read before, and a pack of gum will be five bucks.

Unlike hell, airports punish both the good and the bad without distinction. And you can go there more than once.

Experience has therefore taught me not to not be surprised by much when travelling by air.

I was wrong.

When I got to my gate at the airport last week I thought there was some mistake. Sitting out on the tarmac was a propeller plane.

It immediately brought up images of World War I fighter pilots, walking out into the grim dawn, wondering if they'd ever return. And just my luck, I forgot to pack my silk scarf and flying goggles.

My wife, who is also a good sport when travelling, just shrugged her shoulders and climbed aboard to join the rest of our thirty fellow passengers.

During the pre-flight safety talk I thought they were going to hand out parachutes. In the event of engine failure, I think we were supposed to roll down our windows and flap our arms.

A few minutes later, the engines were roaring and we were trundling down the runway, dwarfed by the big jets standing in line. The one good thing about propellers is they make so much noise you can barely hear the screaming children.

I was sitting across from the flight attendant ­ a very nice American woman. As we started the take-off she began talking. At first I thought it was a last minute announcement, but she wasn't using the microphone. I leaned forward because I thought maybe she was talking to me.

I was wrong. She was praying.

She was asking God to look after the airplane and all of us flying in it.

Now, normally I m happy to be included in anyone's prayers. And I know I'm going to hear from people thinking I'm not respectful enough about the power of prayer.

But what are you supposed to think when your stewardess begins to pray out loud during take off? What does she know that you don't?

It's like driving behind someone with a lot of religious medals on their dashboard. I'm nervous when anyone needs that much divine intervention to drive a car.

I figure God already has His hands pretty full with Kosovo and everything, so I don't like to bother Him with the day to day stuff.

Still, if He took time out of His busy schedule to make sure we landed safely in Cleveland, I'll be the last to complain.

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