The plane was, as usual, crowded. An early morning direct flight to Chicago, people stood single file waiting to take their seats. As I put my bag in the overhead bin the man in the aisle seat stood to allow me to squeeze past him. Slight of build and sporting a long, gray ponytail, he was engaged in a conversation with an attractive flight attendant.
“What was the name of your band again?” She asked. “__________,” he said proudly. (Note to Reader: Think prominent rock and roll band of the 70s.) Not wanting to disappoint, she bit her lip in concentration as if it would help her recognize the name. After a moment, however, she could only conclude that she had never heard of him or his band.
“No, I am sorry, but I’m not familiar with them.” She looked sympathetic.
The aging rock and roller was dejected, his ponytail flowing over his now sagging shoulders. “Have you ever heard the song ‘__________’?” (Note to Reader: Think prominent head-banger song of the 70s.)
“Uh, no.” She grimaced. “Sorry,” she replied, shrugging her shoulders with unease, knowing that her response had wounded a fragile ego.
“I guess you’re too young,” he said, looking confused. Seeing an opportunity to relieve his misery, I offered some encouragement.
“I know both the song and the band,” I said cheerily. He visibly straightened, gave a proud smile, and looked at me as though I were a man of true taste and culture.
Restored, he turned to the beautiful attendant once again to gauge her reaction. There was something akin to pleading in his eyes; a keen desire that she acknowledge that he was, in fact, someone important. She appeared to remain unconvinced, but wanting to disengage, she raised her eyebrows as if impressed. I almost added more, but it was all too evident that it was not my attention that he wanted and, besides, I didn’t really like his band or his song. After a moment, she moved on, but his smile never dimmed. He had been confirmed in his status and that was enough.
Contained in this incident are many life lessons. I found myself reflecting on the words of Psalm 90:
You turn people back to dust,
saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”
A thousand years in your sight
are like a day that has just gone by,
or like a watch in the night.
Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—
they are like the new grass of the morning:
In the morning it springs up new,
but by evening it is dry and withered.
In recording the death of William the Conqueror in 1087, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, one of England’s oldest primary sources, drives home the fleeting nature of earthly success with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer:
He who was earlier a powerful king, and lord of many a land, he had nothing of any land but a seven-foot measure; and he who was at times clothed with gold and with jewels, lay then covered over with earth.
The country singer put it more bluntly when he sang: “I ain’t never seen no hearse pullin’ no U-Haul.”
Get your house in order. Make peace with God. Trust not in your riches, reputation, or the approbation of man. One day we will all face our Creator, and he won’t be interested in your record sales, Facebook following, or stock portfolio. For far worse than going unrecognized by the flight attendant are the words:
“I never knew you. Depart from me.” (Matthew 7:23)
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