Bernice

I stand in line at the Denver airport waiting to board my plane to Portland, Oregon. She stands away from me, her back to the wall-sized window that looks out over the desolate, brown landscape. It's late January and there is no snow, just still coldness. She's old, carrying heavy bags that pull at the loose skin on her swollen wrists. At first glance, her features are almost obscured by her paper thin, lined skin. It falls in folds like scalloped curtains. But what I notice are the crystal blue eyes that twinkle from their wrinkled nests. The clear, keen look contrasts sharply with her drooping face. So I smile. I'm so happy! Standing in line to go home; home by the evergreens and the sea; to hold again, the ones that nurtured me and gave me life! And she asks why I smile.
And then we are friends...

I hold her bags and find a row with two seats so we can sit together. I reflect how I've always wanted an old lady to sit near on a plane, and this is a first! I'm overjoyed! She has 3 layers of coats so I pull 3 sets of sleeves until her coats are off and perched dangerously on her bony knees. I offer to hold them and in time, they became very heavy and hot. They are khaki, tan and camel colored and all the same design. She pulls out her Sarah Palin book and talks about her, then she talks about Alaska. She lived there for years and raised her children there. Her husband sounds like an awful man; she was alone raising the kids most her life...but she is matter of fact and gentle. No edge or bitterness pervades her words...just sweetness. I want to be like her. She tells me she went to church 40 years before she realized who Jesus really was and is now born again. I, too, am in agreement. And then she is my best friend.

Lunch comes in little packets of peanuts; she gibbers away and bits of peanuts line her lower lip, some fall down and disappear behind her lower lip and I watch some lodge in her yellow, corn teeth; but I'm mostly aware of the ones on her wet wrinkly lip. There are a few and then there are less as they land on my jeans, sweater and finally on my neck. It lands cold and wet and I quickly brush it away...annoyed that I am a little grossed out. Did she not live strong and lively raising her children in the wild, untamed forests of Alaska? How small of me to care. But I still feel the clammy moist after its long gone. She falls asleep and there are still remnants of her lunch on her thin lips. Mouth agape she sleeps and is not even concerned. I want to cry I am so happy, I feel like for this little bit, she is mine!

I wake up, she asks if I slept good. I didn't realize I had fallen asleep too. I am aware how safe and secure I feel with her. I tell her about my family and that I'm going home and she lifts my left hand and notices I'm not married. So she lifts it with her hands. They grip strongly and are very warm and it surprises me. She says that if we pray in agreement and where two or three are gathered...but her words drift off as she hesitates and forgets the rest. So we bow our heads and she prays that God would have a man prepared for me, who loves children and is soft spoken. I cry like a little girl.
I think I am beginning to love her...

She has approached the very thing closest to my heart and with her quiet, gentle spirit makes me feel alive with hope, security and a love for my God. We hold hands and nap together. When I awake, she is still asleep and I feel so relaxed, I'm aware this is not a natural plane ride; yet it feels as close as my own skin and as natural as my own breath. I am remembering when I was last on a plane...a year ago, leaving Oregon to San Antonio. And it was not natural either. Tears also pervaded the flight, but they ran in sorrow and regret; I was starting over and leaving behind a trail of wreckage that hurt the ones I loved most. And now, here I was, made fresh and a new creature altogether; a heart change by Jesus, organic even, in its transformation...and this angel sat by my side with her thick hands, clear blue eyes and sweet companionship.

She asked for my address and gave me hers, "so that when you meet your man, you can write and tell me." She watched me cry and she joined me.

Her son was waiting when we landed, he took the bags I carried for her and abruptly moved along. I hugged her quickly and gave her the best I could in a goodbye, thanking her, smiling through my tears...she was gone.

And now, I know, I love her.

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