Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Chance Meeting

As I prepare to go to bed at 1:30 AM in the morning, I felt the urge to blog something (yes, I know, something that hasn't happened in a while), and a particular story that happened recently came to mind. So then, also realizing I haven't yet outlined much of what I did while traveling, I decided to tell you all of my meeting a very impressive young lady.

When my term of work was over and I was to fly back home for about a month to study and take my midterm exams, it was a long, tiring day. Flying from St. Paul to Charlotte was no small flight, and one that required multiple layovers. We were flown from St. Paul to Chicago (Why? Why fly a literal 40 minute flight?), Chicago to D.C., and from D.C. to Charlotte. It was quite a journey, with some 5 total hours of waiting in lines at airports in the meantime. I stood, sat, and finally laid down in the D.C. airport outside our gate while the personnel resolved technical problems and had to reboot their systems to check everyone in...a process that took 30 minutes. Needless to say, as I boarded the small plane heading for Charlotte, I was tired, annoyed, and not in good temper. I was ready to be home.

I was naturally seated at the very back of the airplane, literally the last row, so I somehow managed to scramble aboard first and by a miracle got my bags in. I will never pack them so tightly again. Sitting down, I sighed and laid back, closing my eyes for a minute I remember. I would get home, write a few letters, eat something and immediately go to bed, I decided in my thoughts.

As I opened my eyes, the passenger that would sit next to me scrambled her way back. I raised an eyebrow...she did not look like a typical traveler. As she carefully, almost timidly picked her way back towards the seat next to me, I felt compassion for her...she looked tired, lost, and a little afraid. Maybe a first time flier.
She was wearing a uniform decked out in "USA," dressed in colors of red and blue, and it was indeed an athletic uniform at that. I could tell she was certainly an athlete, given her dress and the tone of her skin. She was used to the sun. A small girl, perhaps a year or two younger than me, blond, shoulder-length hair and blue eyes.
As she jammed her bags into the above compartments and collapsed into the seat next to me, I looked over at her curiously. She immediately leaned forward on the fold-out tray and crossed her arms, laying her head down on them, as if she were going to sleep. I had a moment of fear that she might be about to cry, and I would have to frantically comfort her or render some assistance. But she did not...she wasn't sad or hurt, just tired. Very tired. Every few minutes, as we taxied out onto the runway, she would raise her head, look around almost with a bewildered look, and then rub her eyes as if exhausted. Then occasionally lay her head down again.

This was certainly no typical traveler. After a few minutes, I couldn't help but ask if she was well. There was obviously something wrong.
"...Excuse me, are you okay?" I asked with concern, prepared to get her something if I needed to.
She looked over at me, not surprised. She smiled nervously. "Ah, no, I'm fine! I'm alright, just tired." My look of concern must have not have lessened, because she went on to explain. "I've been flying for about 36 hours straight now, without sleep, so yeah...I'm a little tired." She laughed a little.
My eyes opened very wide I'm sure at that. "Whoa, really?" I replied, very surprised. "36 hours? Where from?"
"From St. Petersburg." She shrugged, as if it were no big deal.
"Oh okay." I said, as if that made total sense. "Wow, long distance visit huh?"
She laughed a little at my attempt at humor. "Yeah something like that." The plane took off finally, and we were in the air. "It was for a contest actually."
"Ah I see...something national?" I looked at the jacket that was covered in "USA" stickers.
"Yeah." She seemed like she was used to explaining this. "Well, I'm a competitor for team USA in the International Biking Race. I'm a pre-Olympics athlete."
I love the Olympics. Honestly I could care less about most sports, but there is something golden and truly epic about seeing the world come together to compete for a global prize, being named the world's fastest man, the world's greatest swimmer, or the world's best fencer. It's a glorious event. So naturally, this was amazing.
"Wow. Really?" I asked, incredulous. "You're on the Olympic team?"
She laughed aloud at that. "No no, not yet. I'm hoping to be for the 2014 Olympics though. We'll see! I'm training for it."
"Seriously? That is awesome!" I was silent for a moment. "And you're...how old?"
"I'm 15."
That blew my mind. Why hadn't I done this?! "No way! Good grief, congrats, that is one serious accomplishment!"

As we got into the conversation, she began to tell me a little about herself. At first I asked if she needed to rest, but she actually refused. "I need to stay awake until my flight ends...you have to get used to the time change thing. Get your body adjusted." That was a braver girl than I was, that's for sure.
She told me the story of her and perhaps two dozen other high school kids, selected athletes from across the nation, who were invited to participate in Olympic training and some minor International races and sports. Apparently her and a chosen two dozen others were trained and heavily, almost military style, disciplined and honed to be top level athletes. On this occasion, the United States had sent them to St. Petersburg to compete with Russia, Germany, Sweden, and France in an international biking race. She told me of their stay in St. Petersburg, staying in the original Olympic Village. About some of the sights and places in the Russian metropolis, even though they were allowed very little free time. She told me a great deal about how her and the USA team was mocked and outright hated by some of the other nations, Russia especially, and how a good deal of anger and prejudice existed under the blanket of what we see on TV about the Olympics. She told me the USA still carried away the most gold and silver medals though. She told me of being looked down on by the very staff of the Village, and how the other national teams spent their nights partying and drinking, while their team (being minors and thus not allowed to drink or take drugs whatsoever anyway) was drilled constantly. It was quite a story.

The flight went quickly, though several times she practically did nap for a few minutes and I was content to watch the sunset of the world from an altitude of 6000 feet, a beautiful sight. As we came into land, she woke again. Poor thing.
"So are you stopping in Charlotte?"
"Well, overnight, yes..." She shrugged. "But I still have to make it to Denver, Colorado, for training next week by tomorrow. I've got about 10 hours to go yet." She laughed a little. Wow. Brave young lady.
"Wow, well...I wish you luck." I replied, and got her stuff from the above compartment. "And...I'll be looking for you in 2014, on screen!"
She smiled. "Alright, I'll see what I can do." As we exited the plane, I shook my head and walked to baggage claim. Now that was quite an impressive young lady. God bless her, I wish her full luck.
One thing she told me that stuck in my mind. "It's great doing what I do...I do and see things that people twice my age never will get the chance to...I got to experience a lot, and see a lot of things..." She paused, "...but it comes at a cost. I have to make sacrifices...and I mean, a lot of sacrifices. School, friends, family, fun...I don't get much of any of it."
I believe it. She is amazing...but I don't envy her. That's a sacrifice I'm not sure I can make, not even for an international gold medal. But I wish her the best of luck. God bless her, and God bless the USA!

I never was much of a patriot, and at a few times in my life I've wondered if anyone should be. But...you know what? This country may not be perfect, it may not even be entirely biblical...and it certainly has many a flaw. But you know what? Given the other options, it's the best we got. I'm not political scientist, or great governmental philosopher...I have wonderful friends who put me to shame in that regard. But, as a simple country boy: People are depraved, and so no perfect system will ever exist this side of the Kingdom of Heaven. But until that day comes, we do the best we can, and frankly, this country has done a good job of that, if you look around us at what other people lack. For goodness sake, parents DIE so that their children may get to America to live! We take so much for granted. I, truly, am incredibly blessed to live in this nation.
Now, mark, I'm not exactly a patriot. I swear allegiance to only one Kingdom, and as this nation turns its face from God, it turns away from it's Christian people, including myself. But even at that, we're too blessed to even fully understand, having only lived here all our lives. There's a lot of blessing and greatness in this land we live in yet, in spite of it's flaws...and I don't think many things are worth dying for. But I would gladly die so that my children can grow up in the same nation I did, with the same blessings, the same undeserved freedoms. I know not if it will be the same in those days, but I do know, I'd die for what we've got now, if my family could live to enjoy it. God bless the USA. God bless America.
Just some thoughts from a simple, foolish farmer boy at 2 in the morning.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Blogger Template by Blogcrowds