I feel it most when I travel. We’re just passing through. We’re strangers here.
I board a jet in pitch black darkness and fly over the Great Lake as the sun peeks out and illuminates the Chicago skyline. On my downtime in the airport, I imbibe on popcorn for breakfast then load the flight to Minneapolis.
I buckle my seatbelt and wait. Passengers board, filing down a crowded aisle. People watching, I begin to feel that familiar melancholy ache. I wonder how and where I fit in this sea of humanity—there’s the guy reading the paper in the seat next to me, the stewardess flying on to San Fransisco, the ancy toddler behind, his nervous mother wondering when he will blow, dreading the judgmental glances shot her direction, and there’s the lady who can’t speak English. She knows for sure she’s not home.
I select Spotify on my iPhone and choose a Tenth Avenue North playlist on automatic shuffle.
They sing to me,
“If this is not the homeland, we can see the lights from here.
He’s making us a city where there are no fears and it’s drawing near.
Until then we’re all strangers here.”
And I marvel at God’s mysterious crafting of this holy moment, a sacred connection transmitted through wireless earbuds.
Every time I fly, I have a ritual to manage my anxiety. As the motor revs and the noise and speed collide on take off, I open my hand asking God to take it, to accompany me on my journey. He doesn’t need to be wooed, He’s omnipresent but I’m intentionally acknowledging it and inviting Him to be my companion.
Someday, He’ll take my hand and lead me home and when I fly into bumpy air, I always wonder if it will be today. As I’m bouncing around and my stomach flips out, I pray for my loves, worry about their futures and remind God what they will need to get along without me– as if He doesn’t already know.
And I try to practice coping strategies like speaking truth to my runaway emotions and adrenalin. “Planes fly safely through turbulence all the time without crashing. It’s not likely we will crash.”
And I breathe deep, flexing and relaxing muscles methodically.
And I wish I wasn’t a teetottler and could order a mixed drink.
But mostly, I wish my Xanax, specially prescribed for just such occasions wasn’t in my bag in the overhead compartment.
In these moment, I feel like a stranger, for sure.
I pray a quiet “Thanks” as the plane kisses the ground and slows to a stop at the jet bridge.
I get picked up outside baggage claim by a stranger. Literally. Family by marriage. She drives me to the home that my mother in law was raised in. More than 80 years ago, my husband’s grandpa built it to put a roof over the heads of his loves. The kids grew up and moved away except for one who stayed back and tended it lovingly until ravenous cancer took her to her real home earlier this summer.
The garden is meticoulously nurtured and resembles a floral patchwork quilt. The bulbs and perennials will re-emerge for years, maybe decades to the next residents delight and they will whisper the reality that we are strangers here.
While we leave an imprint on our place and people, we aren’t here to stay.
Anywhere. Michigan. Cincinnati, Dallas. Minneapolis.
I open the garage, get behind the wheel of the car that Auntie drove and depart due east toward Michigan by way of Wheaton, Illinois.
I embrace this day, the road trip, the long conversation over Bluetooth with a kindred spirit, the landscape, mostly farms dotting the tree covered hills and acres of corn stalks mature and swaying in the breeze, waving “Hello—Goodbye, Stranger”. Then, reaching today’s final destination, I dine around a table with my girl and the friends she loves.
Tomorrow, I’ll help her move into her campus apartment one last time.
The gran finale.
Because in the end, she’s a stranger too. Just passing through.
This year, like all the others, she’ll have unpredictable weather events, a mix of sunshine and storm clouds. She’ll get caught in random pop up thunderstorms and race for shelter but undoubtedly find herself cold and wet—physically, emotionally and spiritually. And sometimes it’ll be her tears rather than the rain that leaves her soggy. The ache of the now and the not yet, the brokenness resulting from the residual effects of the Fall. That’s what makes this temporary journey through life so beautiful-terrible. And God invites us to cry about it. It’s all a part of the epic story He is writing in her life. My life. Everybody’s life.
And I’m reminded again of that song on the airplane,
“This is not how it’s going to be.
Your pain is temporary.
We’re all strangers here.
So it’s alright, if you can’t stop the tears that you cry.
‘Cause someday we’ll touch the face of our God and the sorrow will disappear.
Until then, we’re all strangers here.”
After the last box is lugged up a flight of stairs, I’ll hug her goodbye and keep driving all the way to Michigan where I’ll park this car in our driveway and hand over the keys to a different girl, another love of my life, who will drive it to a different college where she will live and learn and love this fresh new school year. And we will wait and watch and trust in the tender mercies of God, surprising and new each morning to carry her through it. Three years will fly by and in the twinkle of an eye, she’ll move on and become a stranger too.
And I hold loosely to this day because I know that someday, maybe even today, God will reach for my hand, grasping it securely yet ever so gently and take me on my biggest trip ever, its destination a mystery even to google maps. And when I arrive, then I’ll be home.
But until then We’re All Strangers Here.