Curious People Bring Curious Gifts
Our friend, Sara Shimer, phoned sometime in May and said, “The doctor has given me two to three months to live.” And then she added, “If you’re going to travel overseas, you need to travel ASAP.”
David and I knew Sara’s cancer had returned, and we contacted her frequently to pray with her and to make sure she wasn’t back living in her car parked on the streets and in the byways of Washington, D.C., as had happened after her first bout with this illness. Sara, a former airline employee, had frequently given us passes to fly overseas. We used employee passes to visit our son, Jeremy, in China, for instance; and when he needed to fly home from Beijing for an interview for the University of Chicago master’s program, she found a roundtrip pass for him to meet with the social science faculty, then return to his teaching position at the Petroleum Institute in Dalian.
For the last five years, Sara has signed both David and me up for employee standby passes. That meant we could fly anywhere in the States and in the world, mostly free (except for some country taxes imposed on passengers by foreign countries) wherever this airline landed. We weren’t charged for checked-in luggage. In addition, by some quirk of technology, I even received a TSA PreCheck, which meant I could go through security in the faster lines, without removing shoes or jackets or taking out my makeup kit in its plastic see-through bag.
There are down sides to standby, certainly. You never know if you’re really going to catch that flight on which you’ve reserved a seat. (No matter how many times David and I have been given “the last place on the plane,” we still fight that nervous uncertainty as to whether our names will be called and our boarding passes reissued.) I have stayed overnight at SFO because there was no room on the evening flights, not even the red-eyes. I tried to sleep in a quiet corner as the cleaning crews polished the mostly empty hallways outside each gate, calling to one another and making ordinary conversation. Eventually, I’ve made peace (most of the time) with the mysteries of standby inscrutabilities. Being regularly assigned Economy Plus seating helps with that, of course.
Sometimes the overhead monitor in the gate area indicates the airplane manifold is full and there are no seats available. Coaching, however, from standby regulars, has taught me Rule Number One: Never leave the gate until the gangway doors have been closed. (Even then, hang around a little, just to make sure the names of everyone who didn’t make it are rolled over to the next scheduled departure.) People miss their planes. Other standbys change their plans. Taxis and buses get caught in traffic. One plane that was posted as full eventually loaded up with standby passengers waiting to be called—I was number 17.
I have been coached in standby lore by the professionals—one an international photographer who often worked for National Geographic and whose sister had provided an employee pass for him for his other freelance work. He taught me Rule #2: Travel with as little baggage as possible. Traveling with a carry-on allows you ultimate flexibility.
Standby passenger nervousness is inevitable—especially if you are trying to make a set appointment on the other end of the trip. So I’ve made up my own Rule #3: Give yourself enough leeway in case you don’t make the flight. Rule #4: Be flexible in schedule and in attitude. While waiting at the next gate, and the next, I’ve caught up on email and correspondence, finished books hauled out of the to-read pile for just such moments. And I’ve learned to relax about travel misses—some vehicle of some kind is going at some time to my destination. Traveling to San Francisco three times a year for board meetings, I learned to transit from the airport to Modesto (and other points) using the BART. “Don’t send anyone to pick me up. I’m not sure when I’ll get a standby flight. I’ll call when I reach the train platform.”
So thanks to Sara Shimer’s beneficence, David and I have traveled all over the States plus a trip to France, to London, to Germany, to Spain, to China, to Bulgaria—pretty much free of cost ($93 country tax to leave Bulgaria). Obviously, international travel is when we received the most financial benefit from the use of an employee pass. Hence Sara’s urging: “If you’re going to travel overseas, do it ASAP.” So we did. I booked passes on the employee reservation website, and David and I went to Barcelona for his 80th birthday in August. I figured Sara’s generosity saved us about $5000 for two roundtrip tickets.
Word came last week from a mutual friend that Sara had suffered a major stroke and was unconscious in ICU. We corresponded a bit about the history of our relationships to Sara. We agreed that Sara was a “quirky” personality. Here is a little that this mutual friend wrote in her e-mail to me:
as quirky as she was, had a huge network of people who knew her—many of
them internationals, here as well as abroad, many of them Muslim,
possibly through Azizs’ (her former husband) connections, but her
Muslim network was bigger than Moroccan (his nationality). She had
local ties to three big church in the Washington, D.C. area. People
just knew who she was. She complained bitterly about the church ("my
Muslim friends are better to me than my Christian friends," she'd
say--and some of them, Muslims, had indeed given her housing for months
at a time). She was just…connected.
Another thought about airplane passes. This week I received a letter from a woman (too dangerous to post her name) who ministers in Muslim countries whose governments are often hostile to Christian faith and Christian workers. This woman has an advanced degree in food science and has given her life helping people develop their capacity to be whole physically and spiritually. Her last prayer letter included a request for prayers for her aging father who is alone when she travels (although caregivers have stepped up to be a network of support). But one other request caught my eye: “Pray that I will not be too fatigued by the long flights and that I will be able to get enough exercise when we are in the air.”
would be an extraordinary gift if some of you who are able, like my
friend Sara, would provide employee passes for Christian workers. Not
only would it save on the huge expense of international travel, often
travelers with these passes are able to make the long journeys with
complimentary comfortable seating—even Business and First-Class seats.
Who knows?—you may be one of the curious souls bearing curious gifts.
2016 Advent Retreat of Silence
If your soul is longing to bask in the presence of Divine love,
please consider joining us for our intimate 2016 Advent Retreat of
Silence. This year's theme will be "The Gift of Divine Love Made Alive
in Me." This guided 8-hour retreat will be held at Turtle Creek
Acres--a fully renovated 1920s dairy barn home in a peaceful farm
setting. For more information and/or to register, click the link below.
Know that space is limited to only 20 guests per retreat. Would love to
have you join us!
In January 2017 I will offer two memoir-writing courses going forward for seven months to this Soulish Food list and to my “friends” of some 5000 folk on my Facebook page.
Global Bag Project Christmas Donations
you (or your family, or your small group) consider making a Christmas
gift this year of $100 toward the women in the bag-making cooperative
in Nairobi, Kenya, who have been our partners in this micro-enterprise
venture? Some 30 gifts of this size will enable us to underwrite the
New Year capitalization of the purchasing and sewing cycles so that our
friends will have work and we will have stateside products to sell.
The Soulish Food e-mails are
posted biweekly on the Hungry Souls Web
site. Newcomers can look that over and decide if they want to
register on the Web site to receive the biweekly newsletter. You might
want to recommend this to friends also. They can go to www.HungrySouls.org.
Hungry Souls Contact Information
ADDRESS: 29W377 Hawthorne Lane
I wonder if we all maybe need to stop avoiding the curious souls who cross our paths. I wonder if curious people aren’t provided by God exactly for the purpose of bringing us curious gifts.
A Memoir of a Family in a Culture of Crisis
by J.D. Vance