By Tom Lagana
After two days of presenting seminars in New England, I made a mad dash to the airport. Finding myself with a little time to spare, I sat in the main terminal for a few minutes of relaxation. Although this tiny airport appeared to be fairly new, it was unusually empty for 4:30 p.m. on a weekday. From my vantage point, I counted four people.
I sat idly for a few minutes, and then the woman who checked me in at the counter approached me by name and said, “I told you earlier that your seat was confirmed, but the flight before this one has been canceled. I can't guarantee that you'll get on, but it looks good so far.”
As the only standby passenger for this flight, I waited patiently. About a dozen confirmed passengers at the gate started to board the small plane. When I asked about my standby status, the woman hand-counting the tickets delivered the disappointing news. “All nineteen seats are full, sir.”
Being a “doubting Thomas” of the first degree, I waited at the gate until the plane was actually rolling down the runway before I gave up and returned to the main terminal.
For some reason, I wasn't terribly upset about missing the plane. I frequently tell my seminar participants, “Things happen for a reason. The universe is trying to tell us something.” I thought, “Okay, it's time to trust my own advice. Why am I here tonight?”
I sat down at one of the four wooden tables outside the airport's dining area and took an apple from my briefcase. Each bite made a conspicuous crunching sound. I felt uneasy, as if I were being watched. Glancing around, I noticed two pieces of unattended luggage on the floor about a foot away, leaning against the next table. As I considered reporting this to security, I noticed a young man dressed in a dark blue suit, tie and turban, using the microwave nearby. He walked slowly over to his table, carefully cradling a large cup, and slumped into his chair. As he ate, he looked over at me several times and smiled politely. I smiled back.
When I stood up to discard the remains of my apple, the young man got up too, following right on my heels with his trash. We exchanged the typical small talk of strangers thrown together by circumstance for a brief moment in time.
My new acquaintance said, “I'm in town for an interview. I plan to become a doctor, and I've applied to the residency program at the hospital here. It looks favorable.”
“What kind of doctor?” I asked.
“I don't know,” he answered sheepishly.
“If you don't know what kind of doctor you want to be, how do you hope to become what you want?” I inquired.
“Are you a philosopher or something?” he asked, raising a dubious eyebrow.
“No. I'm a professional speaker and I give seminars,” I answered. “Would you like a seminar on goal setting?”
Without hesitating, he replied, “Yes, actually… I'd like someone to speak to me.” Thrusting h
is hand toward mine, he introduced himself.
As he motioned for me to sit next to him, I moved my luggage to his table, and we continued talking. In this unexpected arena, we discussed our goals and dreams. It wasn't a seminar, but within minutes it turned into a deep sharing session. The young man told me how lonely he was since moving from India only weeks before. He said, “I felt that I had to leave my homeland in or
der to find myself.”
It was clear he was troubled. He confided feelings that he said he rarely told anyone. He had broken off his engagement to a young woman in India, shortly before their arranged wedding. He also revealed that, as a young boy, he had been sexually abused by one of the family servants. The horrors of that event still haunted him. I marveled at this man's ability to unleash such confidences before a stranger.
“The man is locked up now,” he said sadly. After pausing for a few moments to stare at the floor, he continued, “I wonder if blaming the servant was justified.” It was obvious that this young man was struggling with many troublesome issues in his life.
Then the young man's dark, despondent eyes met mine as he added, “I wish my problems would just disappear.”
It seemed to me that the banished servant wasn't the only imprisoned soul.
As he shared his buried thoughts, I could see how much he had to offer the world.
He stared at me with intense eyes. “I don't know why I am even telling my secrets to a total stranger.”
Hoping to reassure him, I said, “God has placed us together tonight so we could help each other. Someday it will be your turn to listen and to help someone else, to soothe his troubled soul.”
At twenty-one, the young man had a promising career ahead of him. I pointed out all the positives in an attempt to make him feel better about himself. It seemed my words were of some benefit. He smiled and thanked me for listening.
When his flight was called, we both stood up. As we shook hands, his fingers hesitated to let go. He seemed to be holding on in order to absorb some of my strength. In those two short hours, we had created a bond, a bridge between two diverse cultures and generations. We exchanged a brotherly hug, and he parted.
I meandered over to the departure area window to catch a glimpse of him. I wanted to wave as he boarded his plane. As I watched his plane on the tarmac, I looked up in disbelief at the familiar, almost supernatural, reflection in the dingy glass. My new friend was standing right behind me! Astonished, I turned around.
With a somber face he said, “I have just one more thing to tell you.”
“What is it?” I asked, eagerly.
“Thank you for being here tonight… and for listening to me.” He stopped suddenly to take a deep breath. Then he said, tearfully, “I was planning to… kill myself tonight.” Stopping to take my hand, he added, “But now… I feel like there's hope.”
We shook hands and then embraced for the last time. Words were insignificant. I felt a tear on my cheek as I waved to him and watched him board his flight.
That night, I felt a new connection to God, like I had just been given a signal. I felt renewed with a sense of a higher purpose.
A Higher Purpose. Reprinted by permission of Tom Lagana. © 2010 Tom Lagana.
Tom Lagana is a professional speaker, trainer, author, engineer, and volunteer. He is a recipient of the Jefferson Award for Outstanding Public Service in Delaware and coauthor of “Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul.” He and his wife, Laura, are coauthors of “Chicken Soup for the Volunteer's Soul,” “Serving Time, Serving Others,” “Serving Productive Time” and “The Quick and Easy Guide to Project Management.” They present and facilitate
workshops, programs, and seminars for inmates and volunteers across the United States. He may be contacted at P.O. Box 7816, Wilmington, DE 19803, phone 302-475-4825, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or see website: www.TomLagana.com.
This column was printed in the January 2 - January 15, 2011 edition.