The verse of the day
I sat at the gate, sipping a coffee as I waited to board the plane for my 6:20 a.m. flight. Despite the early hour, fellow travelers buzzed with conversations, excited, I am sure, for adventures ahead. I was excited, too. Ready for a break from work and looking forward to seeing my nephew and his family after too many years.
One of the aspects of travel that I enjoy most is people watching. I love observing how people interact in families, friend groups, as business travelers, or solo travelers. It’s fascinating. You see the best of people when a stranger helps out an older person in need. And sometimes you see the worst in people—the travel process can be frustrating at times.
But this particular morning, instead of watching the people around me, I dug out my phone and opened up my Bible app, searching for the day’s verse. It came from Psalm 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” A familiar verse for many of us. And so practical. I thought back to the previous day when I saw this verse posted on a friend’s Facebook page. A coincidence? Many times, I thought, it is easy to return anger for anger. To be offended. To feel our honor tarnished. Help me, Lord, I prayed, in these days ahead, to be gentle. To pursue gentleness.
Over the intercom our gate agent began calling the first group (A) to board. I put my phone away and tossed my empty coffee cup before rechecking my boarding pass: Group B, #18. The airline not only boards by group, but has passengers line up by number, standing next to posts listing 1-5, 6-10, etc., all the way to 60. It’s a different way to board, but I like it for its orderliness and how it causes passengers to interact as they ask fellow travelers their number in an effort to fit into the right spots.
Our group was called, and I approached the post listing 15-19. I asked the first person I came to, a large, African American woman, what her number was. She looked at me, angry.
“Why?” she demanded.
“So … so I know where to stand,” I returned, unable to grasp her ire.
“Why you got to ask me? Can’t you see the numbers?” she practically yelled.
I turned from her, embarrassed. People turned to watch.
“She STUPID or something?” she loudly questioned a lady next to her, someone I took to be her travel companion. “The numbers be posted RIGHT THERE. Why she got to ask ME?”
I began to second guess my own motives. Was I dumb to ask someone for their number? No, I realized. This is a normal question that I’ve experienced dozens of times. What should I say? People are staring. She is embarrassing me. A snarky response came to mind. But I couldn’t bring myself to say it.
“I’m sorry,” I said, turning back to her. “I just didn’t want to step in front of you if you were ahead of me in line.” I spoke the truth, gently. And I turned away from her. But I stayed right there.
“This is STUPID,” she said to her friend without even responding to me. “Why they board this way? They should just give us seat numbers. …”
And on and on she grumbled.
And then I remembered, “A gentle answer turns away wrath.” Amazing. The Word right when I needed it.
We boarded, and I led our merry little group of B, 15-19 onto the plane. I found an aisle seat and got situated. Then I saw the woman walking down the aisle toward me. As she passed, she didn’t look at me. She didn’t even turn toward me. But she said, “Sorry.” And then I never saw her again.
I thought a lot about this interaction in the following days. What could cause this woman to hate me so intensely? Why was she so offended by my question? Time and again, I concluded that perhaps it wasn’t mine to know. Racial tensions are high in my city, it is true. I can’t know what past experiences she brought to that early-morning interaction. But I can be obedient to the Word. And gentleness is no small weapon to wield in the battle against hatred.
I’m thankful for the Word, for the way it readies us for life. And for its living, active nature. I’m sure you’ve experienced similar situations where the Word of God came readily to mind when needed. I’d love to read your stories.