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A seat in the back

Sharper Focus

by Kelly Pontsler, Major –

I have a love-hate relationship with flying. I’ve been flying all my life (literally!). I love the sensation of take-off and landing, and love to look down at the earth from high up above and study the scene. I’ve had some breathtaking views flying over the Alps and across the Sahara desert. But I’ll confess that I can never sleep in a plane, so overnight flights leave me pretty miserable—and I really dislike turbulence!

I prefer a window seat near the front and thoroughly dislike the last row of the plane. The invention of online check-in is fantastic, for lots of reasons, but especially because it means that nearly always I can get a seat of my choice.

On a recent return to Los Angeles, I got to the airport much earlier than I expected and so got in line to go stand-by for an earlier flight home. It was one of those rare days when I got from the ticket counter, through security and to the gate in a matter of minutes—and managed to get a seat on the flight leaving immediately. I’ve not always had much success with flying stand-by but was delighted to be on the plane, in spite of the fact that I was assigned a seat in the next to last row.

I settled in to my seat next to a young pilot who was on his way home. To be honest, he looked about 15 years old, but he assured me he’d been flying for a good 10 years! His first flight out of Arkansas that day meant he’d been up at 4 a.m., so he quickly dozed off. As we started our descent into Los Angeles, we chatted a bit. I asked him if it was different sitting in the back. He said, “Yes—there’s a lot of noise!”

True, we were sitting right next to one of the engines (in this configuration it was at window level and loud!), but I had actually expected him to say something like, “Yes—view’s a whole lot better up front.” Hmm.

Isn’t it funny how your perspective on something can change just by sitting in a different place? Given a choice, I will always take a seat toward the front of the plane. The noise is a large factor in that. But somehow the ride always feels a smidge smoother, and it’s not bad getting served first as the cabin crew move the drinks cart from front to back. Right?

The pilot’s response has stuck in my head for a few days, and I’ve been thinking about the noise that people encounter when they come to worship at The Salvation Army. There is the obvious noise of people chit chatting when it’s time to listen and the casual wanderings of people in and out of the chapel throughout the meeting. What about the visual “noise” of a corps hall in need of a deep spring-cleaning? Or the “noise” of lofty vocabulary and acronyms that mean little to a newcomer: Justification? Sanctification? CSM? DDWM?

I remember a young Salvationist once saying that she found it better to sit towards the front of the room for Sunday meetings in her corps, as there were fewer distractions and she could concentrate better. In fact, it was a gentle nudge for me to do the same. That was a good 20 years ago, and, given a choice, I will still drift towards the front, with little thought for what is going on behind me.

I had a good flight back to Los Angeles the other day, uneventful in every way—except for a gentle reminder from a young pilot that, from time to time, it might just do me a world of good to take a seat in the back! How about you?


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