The Elderly Man

by Rhonda, September 24, 2023

I boarded my flight on Southwest Airlines out of Washington DC.  If you've ever flown Southwest, you know their seats are not assigned.  They are first come, first serve and the "first come" is determined by your position in the boarding line.  I had an early position in the boarding line, so I was able to grab a window seat on the plane.  The last positions in the line are usually stuck with the middle seats.

A few minutes later, a girl took the aisle seat on my row, leaving only the middle seat between us.  As the last passengers boarded, she turned to me and said, "I think I'm going to move to the middle seat". 

"Sure," I nodded.  "You're very kind."

Soon, I saw her reason for giving up the aisle seat.  An elderly man, hunched over, was walking down the aisle looking for a seat.  He was wearing a blue and red hat that said, "USA" and a T-Shirt with an American flag on it.  He stopped at our row.  

"Is this seat available?" he asked.

Both of us nodded our head yes.  "Praise God!" he exclaimed and threw both hands in the air in victory.  He began to lift his suitcase onto the overhead bin, but it was too heavy for him and his arms started to quiver under the weight as the suitcase began to weave back and forth.  Immediately a tall young man a few rows down got up, and took the bag out of his hands and and put it into the overhead bin for him.

The old man looked up at the young man.  "Thank you," he said sincerely.

Then he sat down next to the two of us.  "I can't believe this seat was available.  Everyone in line told me that I would not get an aisle seat, but would probably have to sit in the middle seat.  I was really hoping for the aisle, though.  The aisle seats are the ones I like the most."

"It must be your lucky day," the girl next to me said.

"Aisle seats really are the best," he said as he got a bottle of Coke out from his backpack.  "You know my bags are probably so heavy because I carry my Coke in them."  

He proceeded to finish off his bottle of Coke.  "I don't know if you saw it, but someone had to help me with my bag."  

We both nodded.  "We saw."

"My wife told me not to pack such a heavy bag but it was already packed, so what can you do?  I think the reason I can't lift it is because of my biceps, " he continued on.  He elbowed the girl next to me with a twinkle in his eye.  "Its because there are none!  There's nothing there."

He laughed such a hearty laugh that we both couldn't help but laugh too.  "Don't laugh," he said between giggles, "getting old really is terrible.  Its not that my biceps are small.  They're just gone!"  And he laughed heartily again, taking a swig of his Coke.

For the next hour, he proceeded to show us every picture he took of every American monument in Washington DC.  He was fascinated with the history of our country, and I suspect he was probably a veteran.  He must have spent days walking around the city, and he seemed to have enjoyed himself tremendously.  I glanced down as his tennis shoes, which appeared to be new.  I guessed he bought them specifically for this trip.

As he continued to talk to us, he told story after story and his laugh and giggles were infectious.

God, I asked, how does this elderly man have so much joy? He's hunched over, and I know he must be in pain.   

He doesn't carry unforgiveness, the Holy Spirit whispered back to me.  

Ah.  I should have known God had yet another less in in unforgiveness for me, his slowest student in this category.

OK God, but in all fairness, I'm not sure he remembers everyone who wronged him to be able to carry unforgiveness.  

So, I thought about my own personal journey on forgiveness for the remainder of the flight.  As the waitress brought the old man his drink "Coke if you have it," he requested, "And could I possibly have the entire can, but only if you can spare it."  She bought him the entire can, which delighted him.  He read the jokes on the Southwest napkins and laughed out loud, then showed them to the two of us, wanting to know if the jokes on our napkins were the same.  

As the flight came to an end and it was time to de-board the plane, he got up to unload his bag from the overhead bin (which I'm sure were packed with Coca-cola), and the young man once again got up and lifted his bag for him.  "You're such a good guy," the old man said to him.  "Thank you so much."

As we walked off the plane, he stopped and said to both of us, "God bless you girls, it was so nice talking to you."  We said our goodbyes and I couldn't help feeling that I have work to do.  I know my problem areas are unforgiveness and anger, no shocker there.  But, I got to see my goal.  Someday I want to be the crazy happy lady on the plane carrying a bag full of soda and enjoying her life. 

I want to conquer this beast of unforgiveness. 

How do you forgive someone who doesn't deserve it?  Even harder, how do you forgive someone who isn't sorry?  I don't have the power to do it, but Christ does, and He lives in me.  So, I know it is possible and I know God doesn't promise me something without delivering.  Forgiveness is about freedom.  Forgiveness removes the control someone else has over your life.   

Unfortunately, forgiveness doesn't always mean a relationship is restored.  Forgiveness is accepting something for the way it is, and dropping the expectations and anger that it wasn't what you hoped.  In order to forgive, we have to accept the reality of the situation and no longer be bound by expectations.

For me, dropping expectations is the hardest part.  I will convince myself there's a variety of reasons that someone would betray me, including a narrative around how it must somehow be my fault.  I'm so afraid to accept reality and drop my expectations that I will make up any reason I can think of to give myself an alternative.  Then, I live in this state of misery and constant disappointment and frustration.  Why?  Because I refuse to accept the situation as it is, and I continue to set expectations of change.

But, forgiveness requires accepting reality, living in reality, and letting go of the offense.  I have two areas of my life that I have much work in this area.  One is with my father, and another is with my ex-husband.  As I pondered this on the plane ride next to the jolliest person I've ever met, I realized I am still struggling heavily in these spaces.

Accepting reality:  The reality is someone hurt us, or someone is hurting us.  If they did it once, and they are sorry, that is the best possible outcome and forgiveness seems to come easier (at least for this redhead).  But, if they continue to hurt us, and they have no intention of apologizing or changing, then forgiveness becomes very tricky.  But it isn't impossible.

If you're in the second scenario, it is also likely there's years of built-up offenses that have hurt for a long time.  When you live in years of hurt, forgiveness doesn't simply happen.  It is a deep root of entangled emotions and pain that require the Holy Spirit to unwind.  There's a lot of work involved, but the first step is to begin living in reality.  You cannot change this person.  Your pain won't change this person, or it would have already happened.  But the Holy Spirit can heal your hurt and make forgiveness possible.

Living in reality:  Living in reality doesn't mean we live a hopeless life.  But, it does often mean accepting that we cannot change another person and we need to set appropriate, responsible boundaries.  Let me tell you, I've tried to change a lot of people, so if it could be done I would have done it.  But, only God can change a person.  In fact, living in reality frees us from the bondage of needing to control someone else so they will change.  Our moods are not controlled by someone else's behavior.  Our lives are not in someone else's hands.  God is big on freeing his children, and He doesn't want us carrying the weight of things that belong only to Him.  Changing someone is not our responsibility, and if we truly give this up, it means we gain a lot of freedom.  

Letting Go of the Offense:  Letting go is final act, the ultimate freedom.  Letting go takes time, and it means that we trust God to take care of us.  We don't have to continue to exact revenge or make someone apologize.   We trust God to make things right and we move on.  God defends us day and night, and He will always take care of us.  We don't have to take care of ourselves by making things right when someone has dome something wrong to us.  Jesus could have been so terribly offended by Peter's disloyal behavior when he denied knowing Christ.  At the time Jesus needed his disciples the most, they deserted Him.  But, He wasn't going to spend one minute angry when He returned.  He had already let go of the offense and immediately reassured Peter that everything was okay.

I want my freedom, and I want to trust God to take care of me.  I want to live life like the elderly man on the airplane, minus the Coca-Cola.  

Let's claim what's ours.  A joy-filled life.

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