Flying Home with a Crying Baby on Board
Have you ever been on a flight (or a bus, or a train, or a car) with a crying baby who wouldn’t stop excercising his/her lungs the entire trip? Where brief respites of silence only make the resumption of the baby’s noise that much more frustrating? Where the parents have no power at all to quiet the infant? It is an exasperating experience common to many of us, and it describes my flight home from Atlanta to Boston Friday.
My first reaction to the crying baby was to think, “Are you kidding me?” I was exhausted from a week of traveling, meeting hundreds of new people, and sleeping in strange beds in hotel rooms. The last thing I wanted to hear at 10pm were the high-pitched screams of an infant. Why would anyone bring a newborn on an airplane anyway? And why can’t they quiet the kid down? I reached into my bag and fit my BOSE headphones over my ears hoping to drown out the noise. Unfortunately, this particular baby is among the crying champions of the world. The headphones made the noise more tolerable, but hardly gave me the silence I yearned for.
I began to think of solutions. Can’t they designate certain flights baby-free? I would choose those flights, I thought. Or perhaps they could make a section of the airplane sound-proof, like the crybaby rooms in some churches. Anyway, I opened a book, trying to become unaware of the screeching baby as I immersed myself in the story.
A little while later, I was disturbed again by the woman in the seat behind me. She was talking loudly, presumably to her husband. “That poor baby,” she said with such tenderness in her voice. “It must be sick,” she imagined, trying to decipher the meaning of the speechless baby’s cries. “I feel so bad for the parents, too,” she said with deep empathy. “They must be so embarrassed and frustrated that they can’t console their child.”
Lent is a time of conversion, something I need desperately in hundreds of different ways every day. Most of the time, I think, I’m blind to my own lack of charity. I guess we all are sometimes. Though we are called to “Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness,” we need each other to be Christ’s healing presence to allow us to recognize our blind spots. The woman behind me forced me to confront my own selfish, self-centered concerns. Not once had I thought about the poor baby, whose own suffering, tiredness, sickness, or discomfort was expressed in the only voice a baby has, through crying. Not once had I thought about the poor parents whose baby was inconsolable and who had to bear the annoyed glances and thoughts of insufferably arrogant passengers who cast aspersions on them for daring to upset a pleasant and quiet flight–jerks like me.
How dare I call myself pro-life! Apparently, I am still only pro-my-life. Are you at all like me? Do you still suffer from spiritual blindness and blind spots? There is a lot of Lenten work left to do.
Saint Thérèse had found a simple way of turning noisy interruptions into charitable acts of prayer. According to one account, “another nun made strange, clacking noises in chapel… probably either toying with her rosary or… afflicted by ill-fitting dentures. The clacking sound really got to Thérèse.“ In her autobiography, Thérèse wrote, “I should have liked to turn round, and by looking at the offender, make her stop the noise; but in my heart I knew that I ought to bear it tranquilly, both for the love of God and to avoid giving pain. So I kept quiet, but the effort cost me so much that sometimes I was bathed in perspiration, and my meditation consisted merely in suffering with patience. After a time I tried to endure it in peace and joy, at least deep down in my soul, and I strove to take actual pleasure in the disagreeable little noise. Instead of trying not to hear it, which was impossible, I set myself to listen, as though it had been some delightful music, and my meditation—which was not the ‘prayer of quiet’— was passed in offering this music to Our Lord.” Her Little Way encourages all of us to turn even the smallest parts of daily life into acts of love. It is how I should have reacted to the baby. It is exactly how the woman behind me did react.
For many of us, mid-way through Lent is time for a mea culpa. “[W]hoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:20). Thank God for the woman seated behind me who helped me to see. We need to keep doing that for one another. We need to be open to the healing of our blindness as well, as the man born blind was (and, unfortunately, some Pharisees were not).
As for me, I don’t look forward to being on a plane ride with a crying baby again. It is bound to happen, though, and I hope I’ll love that little voice from God next time. I hope I’ll be moved to compassion for my little brother or sister. I hope I won’t hear noise, but a beautiful baby’s voice full of life and goodness.
Editorial credit: Freedom Studio / Shutterstock.com for the image of Jesus healing the man born blind.