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A close call can bring the important things into focus

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A close call can bring the important things into focus

By Bill Horner

 

A close call can bring the important things into focus   New Orleans is a fascinating city—the French Quarter, the tasty beignets, the Superdome, even the local newspaper, The Times Picayune. Southern Baptists met there for their annual meeting that warm June of 1996. I had served on the Tellers Committee, ran into old friends, and met new ones; it had been a good convention. But as the Southwest Airlines jet was winging its way toward Nashville, I was glad to be getting back home to my family. My suitcase was bulging with gifts for my three kids—candy, pens, and other trinkets picked up at convention exhibits—as well as a little music box shaped like a grand piano that played “When the Saints Go Marching In.” I found it in a little shop on Chartres Street. That gift was for my youngest for her dollhouse. Marcia and our children were waiting for me at the gate, along with numerous other folks awaiting a glimpse of their loved ones too. Several of us preachers were returning from the convention. One young mother’s little toddler was diligently informing everyone within earshot that her daddy was going to get off that plane when it landed. It was one of those happy anticipatory moments in life. Meanwhile back on the plane we passengers were getting antsy in our seats, also desiring the blessed reunion. We flew low over the Cumberland River, then Briley Parkway, and finally Interstate 40. The outbuildings of the airport were almost eyelevel, and I was waiting to feel the familiar thud of tires on tarmac. And waiting, and waiting. Suddenly I had the distinct sensation of lift. There was no mistake; the airport was falling away behind us, and we were getting airborne once more. The passengers were looking around at each other and beginning to laugh nervously. “Where are we going now?” “I thought we were landing.” “Did we miss the runway?” All of these things were said in jest, but we knew something was quite wrong. Even more unsettling was the sudden realization that any danger might not be past—perhaps it was still ahead of us. A thought was nagging at the back of my mind. It was not fear of dying in a crash. Rather it was, “If we crash, I can’t give my kids their gifts. My daughter Lizzie will never know I bought her that piano music box.” At that moment such matters seemed important. As if he could read our anxieties, the pilot immediately spoke over the intercom and allayed our fears. “We had a little problem back there. We’d been cleared to land, but there was another aircraft on the runway. So the tower told us to go around. We’ll circle the city and make our approach again momentarily.” Someone on the ground, I thought, is going to get chewed out royally.  Within a matter of minutes we made our second approach of the day and landed, to our collective relief, without incident. As we taxied to the gate, the flight attendant asked all of us to give Captain Wilson a round of applause. “I think he is the greatest pilot,” she said, somewhat subdued, “and he just saved all our lives.” Entering the terminal building, we all hugged our loved ones, who were quite unaware of our near miss. Suddenly the young mother’s toddler squealed with delight. “There’s my daddy!” The crowd was delighted too. What a fine line between such joy and heart-breaking grief. Close calls and near misses help us view life with a heavenly perspective. Our convention business was important. But it paled in comparison to the relationships with those meeting us at the airport. A wise lady once told me, “Invest your life in people. That’s where the real payoff is.” Paul and Timothy put it this way to the Christians at Corinth: “You are our letter written in our hearts, known and read by all men. . . you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us” (2 Corinthians 3:2-3). And the input we have in the lives of others for Jesus’ sake can pay eternal dividends.