The Calm Man Stuck with Me at the Burlington Airport

The Calm Man Stuck with Me at the Burlington Airport

This morning I was taking off with two of my children on a flight from Baltimore to Montreal when the stewardess announced in French-tinged English, “On behalf of Air Canada, I hope you will enjoy this flight to Barbados!”
A planeful of confused eyes looked up at her.
“Just kidding,” she chuckled.
“And for the rest of the flight, we’re going to be keeping the lights dimmed. It’s more romantic that way,” more chuckling.
But then, about an hour later, our jolly stewardess, looked suddenly and uncharacteristically crestfallen. “I am very sorry,” she announced, “but a severe thunderstorm in Montreal is preventing our landing. We will be landing instead in Burlington, Vermont to refill on fuel and to wait out the storm”
Ugggh! What a pain!
There were only about 30 people on the flight, and, strangely enough, 5 of us were Orthodox Jews. My kids and I and 2 men. And, strangely enough, one of those frum men was placed in the seat right next to us.
This frum man seated next to us looked like a successful businessman or maybe a lawyer. Someone you’d expect to see tapping away at his laptop in business and not sardined next to us Weisbergs in economy.
The curious thing about this economy-class interloper was that, despite the frustrating delay, he looked extremely calm. Maybe even more calm than anybody else on the plane.
During our hour-wait in Burlington, I asked our calm neighbor if I could use his phone to call my brother-in-law who would be picking us up in Montreal.
Of course!
And then I offered him a granola bar or peanut butter crackers (you know, the orange kind I bought for my kids, but ended up eating myself).
No thanks!
And then he mentioned that he was on his way to a funeral…
“When is the funeral going to be?” I asked him.
“Right now.”
“You are missing the funeral?!”
He nodded.
This man had flown to Montreal for a funeral that he was MISSING because we were STUCK in BURLINGTON, VERMONT. How could he be so calm?
About half an hour into our Burlington wait, I asked him, “Whose funeral are you going to?”
“My grandmother’s.”
I spent the rest of the flight suspended in shock.He was missing his grandmother’s funeral!
And I thought of a story I heard from Sivan Rahav Meir, about a Chabad shlucha who was on her way to the annual shluchos conference in the 1960s when she got stranded in the Detroit airport on account of a blizzard.
The shlucha called the Rebbe’s office to tell the Rebbe that she was stuck in Detroit.
And the Rebbe responded, “What is stuck?”
The shlucha assumed the Rebbe didn’t understand what the word “stuck” means.
And she nearly responded, “Stuck means that we can’t get out of a place we shouldn’t be.”
But then she realized what the Rebbe meant with his response. He meant that a Jew is never stuck. If you are there, there’s a reason for it.
And that young shlucha, Miriam Swerdlov, began passing out Shabbos candles in the airport.. And decades later she still occasionally runs into the children of the women who started lighting Shabbat candles the Shabbat after she was “stuck” at the Detroit airport..
But this business-class man missing his grandmother’s funeral, what could be the point of his hour stuck on the tarmac of the Burlington Airport?
And I thought about how, when death cuts that close to you, frustration or disappointment.or stuck or running late evaporate. All that remains is, “Hashem, I’m in your hands.”

6 comments

  1. thank you, this is a very important post

  2. Looks like one wonderful point of his presence was for this extremely helpful post to emerge, sending calming ripples far and wide.

  3. May his inspiring example bring an aliyah for his grandmother’s neshama.

  4. beautiful

  5. I just read an article by Rabbi Dovid Kaplan about the concept of kiddish Hashem- that we have a mistaken notion that the ultimate kiddish Hashem is when we make a good impression to non-Jews, but really the way it’s defined by the rishonim is how we conduct ourselves in front of other Jewish people, and how we act in private that sanctifies Hashem’s name and increases Hashem’s presence in the world.
    So with that all said, I think this story is a perfect example of a true kiddish Hashem- thank you for sharing it with us and increasing the impact!

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