I got off the airport tram at terminal B, following the calm recorded directions on the loudspeakers, and I meandered my way toward Gate B84.
My airport method is simple when it comes to layovers and connecting flights (mostly because I once missed a flight because I was making lazy conversation at Customs): make mad pace to get to your gate and then determine whether you have time to wander.
Last Monday, I made mad pace to get to B84 and then I snuggled in to people watch. Coming, going, waiting, boarding – I sat comfortably underneath the B84 sign until I realized there was an arrow beside it that pointed down a hallway.
Then I scrambled into mad pace mode thinking with the giggles, “I would sit comfortably people watching just outside of earshot of my boarding plane. I would do something like that!”
The hallway opened up into a mess of crowded activity and 5 or 6 attendants with overlapping announcements,
“Flight 10667 to Albuquerque is now boarding, we’d like to board any military and–“
“As a reminder, passengers traveling to Pensacola will need to check your carry on baggage with a pink tag. The flight attendant–“
“We are now boarding zones 1-7 on flight 4584 to Lafayette. Flight 4584 is now boarding in B84C – that’s C as in Cat. Enter through the door marked C and continue–“
“Those passengers with small children on flight 33092 to Grand Rapids are welcome to board at this time out of B84D. That’s D as in Dog.”
“And that’s the last and final call for Flight 10667. Last and final call for Albuquerque.”
Gate B84 in Houston is actually the hub for about 8 gates with planes pointed in all sorts of directions, from Florida to Arkansas, Texas to Michigan, and from Louisiana to Nebraska. Passengers are amassed in the mayhem and these continuous announcements seem aimed at corralling the chaos.
The attendants keep a practiced calm over the loudspeaker and then immediately panicked over their walkie-talkies (which were just as loud), “We’ve got someone here for Daytona Beach! Have you left? … I sent down two–“
And there was one very little man. I imagine Zaccheus looking exactly like this little man, although I don’t know if this robed figure would have clamored up a sycamore tree to get a good look at Jesus. He walked steadily and slowly right up to the attendant, rolling his small suitcase behind the burnt brown of his robe that touched the floor. I couldn’t hear his words, but the attendant replied, “Oh, Memphis? That’s Door E” and waved her left arm in the general direction of Door E and 4 other doors.
The robed man calmly turned and wheeled his suitcase over to a chair where he seemed to survey the scene.
I should have offered to help, but I couldn’t have known that this very little man would stand in my boarding line for Omaha. I couldn’t have known that the attendant would look at him astonished and say, “Oh, you want the Memphis plane? That plane has already left, but you were here!” She turned to a neighbor attendant, “He was here when it was boarding…” and then turned back to the little man, “You will have to speak to someone upstairs about booking another flight.” And all the time, the very little man maintained his calm, blank stare.
As I walked down the jetway to board my plane, I realized what caused this mess keeping the very little man from Memphis: Babel.
When man became obsessed with self-promotion and protection instead of submitting in obedience to the Lord, confusion and chaos caused a division that cut clear into the 21st century. I don’t know the heart of the little man or the intention of the attendant who failed to communicate his boarding procedure, but I do know our chaos and disorder are a direct result of our proclivity to wander. Systems and structures designed with the greatest efficiency and engineered for the highest efficacy still fall short of the original design.
We still resemble those folks in Genesis 11 who thought they could improve God’s design and what we get is B84 in Houston.
In God’s grace, there’s a redemptive “rest of the story” in the person of Christ that translates truth with divine clarity and invites the chaotic crowd out of confusion.