Steaming Instead of Sleeping

June 8, 2013 — Leave a comment

There is no feeling like being trapped at 30,000 feet and having nowhere to run. I had that kind of experience several years ago.

In 2005, I flew to Maine to visit Danielle, who later became my wife. I was really excited about this trip as I’d never been to the Northeast before. It took three flights to cross the nation, and I chose to fly at night to save costs.

I was seated across the aisle from the only bathroom on the first flight. Now I can’t say it dogmatically because I don’t know for sure, but I’m thinking somebody forgot to clean it. A stench smacked me across the face every time the door was opened. And on that short flight, an overactive bladder became an epidemic among the passengers. No doubt this was going to be the worst leg of the entire trip.

Boy, was I wrong.

The longest trek was the middle flight. I sat at the airport and conversed with a couple of people as we waited to board. I’ve been trying to figure out how to say this without sounding like a jerk. But the lady was very large. And as I sat there I hoped upon hope that she didn’t have the seat next to me. I couldn’t see it, but I’m wondering if God was grinning down on me because of my selfish thoughts.


I had an aisle seat in a row of three. The kitchen for the flight attendants was directly across from my chair. I cordially greeted the man by the window and settled in for the flight with every intent to sleep the entire time. This was the last time I saw him.

I saw her enter the plane and make her way towards me. My eyes desperately scanned the rows behind and in front for any other empty seat. The place was packed. She looked at her ticket and the numbers above my head. Then smiled.

“Looks like we get to sit together!”

I forced a smile in return and stood. She raised my right armrest and plopped down into her chair…and half of mine.

You’ve got be kidding me! I again searched for any open seat on the aircraft but none was to be found. Only sympathetic eyes aimed my direction. I settled in. Prayers shotgunned upwards for patience and understanding.

She tried to make conversation. She’d visited friends in Alaska and now was coming home.

“This is the last time I’m ever going to fly. It’s just been way too difficult.”

I couldn’t have agreed more.

And yet, I knew she felt bad. There was no doubt she was more uncomfortable than I was. She had to ask the flight attendant for a seat belt extender so she could buckle up. My discomfort would only last for a few hours. She had to live with it. So I made up my mind to make the best of it.

My plan was still to sleep. There was no way I was leaning into her so awkwardly I hung my head the other direction in any way possible to find comfort. But every time I was at that point of falling into a deep sleep, I was butted in the head by an attendant backing out of the kitchen. The impatience began to creep in again.The place was dark. Most people enjoying the precious state of slumber. But not me.

Then I thought I was saved. The televisions lowered from the ceiling signalling the start of the in-flight movie. That would be two hours of this trip. I dug out my headphones until the realization hit me. My stomach sank, and I had to take a deep breath. You have to plug your headphones into the armrest. Mine was tucked securely behind the woman’s back. I’ve still only watched “Fly Away Home” without the sound.

I don’t know how long I’d been in the air. It felt like an eternity. I was continually fighting the tingling sensation in my backside from sitting on the edge of my chair. Finally in utter frustration, I dropped my head into my lap. Surprisingly, it was quite comfortable. But that lasted only for a few minutes.

Because that’s when she began rubbing my back.

My entire body tensed. My mind was racing. Do I ignore it or sit up and confront her? I was so tired so I just waited it out. She eventually stopped and I lay there for as long as I could. But like every position I’d tried, the comfort was replaced by cramps and soreness. So, against my will, I had to sit up.

Then she whispered to me. These are the exact words from our short conversation.

“Did you feel that?”


“That was me.”

“Yeah. I figured.”

The ride felt twice as long as it should have on my half of a seat. But to my elation, the wheels finally touched down on the tarmac. As soon as the seat belt light turned off, I jumped into the kitchen until it was my turn to leave. I figured the most loving thing I could say to her was nothing at all.

This wasn’t my finest moment. I don’t write this for you to learn by my example. Maybe God was testing me, and I’m not even sure if I passed. Maybe it just happened because life is like that.

I wrote it simply because it now makes me laugh.


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