By Eric Douglas
A short story from Visibility Press and BooksbyEric.com
Normally, these stories are copyrighted, but I’d love for you to share this story with everyone.
“I just hate these small planes,” Roman Block grumbled to his assistant as they walked across the tarmac toward the commuter jet. “Wasn’t there anyway to get us there on a big jet?” he asked, a touch of whine entering his voice.
“No sir, I’m sorry, but I’ll try to do better next time,” Trent answered quickly, showing just enough contrition to make his boss feel better. It really wasn’t his fault, but he knew better than to try and explain that. It simply came down to when his boss wanted to travel and where he wanted to go. Smaller airplanes were a necessity when you wanted to get to smaller airports. But he knew Block would never listen.
Roman Block was a self-help guru. He was an amazing speaker and could keep crowds on the edge of their seats. He would take them apart and show them their flaws before he gave them the keys to bring them to their fullest potential. At least that was how Block himself described it when he was talking to the media or to his followers. The burly man with perfect hair and teeth was a rock star for people looking for “something” in today’s society. And he made an extremely comfortable living doing it.
Unfortunately for Trent, the logistics of getting Block where he needed to be were just as demanding as moving a real rock star around. And Trent would know. Before coming to work for Block, he had worked as an agent for several music groups. He knew just what it required to get high profile celebrities from Point A to Point B. He knew they craved attention, but also shunned it when they were feeling petulant or grumpy. Block might have a different audience, but he had the same ego and the same needs as any of them.
Trent had quit working for pop music groups when he became a Christian. He saw the pain and turmoil that many of his former clients brought with them and carried away, too. Few of them were really happy and he couldn’t support that lifestyle any longer. He had searched around for a way to use his experience and keep working, and the opportunity with Block seemed like a perfect fit. Not that he liked Block any better, but at least Block wasn’t partying all night and tearing up hotel rooms.
“Trent, just keep these people off of me. I really don’t want to talk to anyone right now. I’m tired and I don’t want to be recognized,” Block said as he climbed the jet bridge into the small plane. He left Trent to handle their carry-on bags.
“Yes, sir. I understand. Just lean against the window and try to get some sleep. I’ll make sure no one disturbs you,” Trent answered as they moved through the door from the bright sun outside into the relative gloom and cramped quarters of the small airplane. Block moved brusquely past the flight attendant who was preparing coffee in the plane’s tiny galley.
The woman reached out her hand and stopped Trent as he entered the plane. She leaned close and whispered, “Is that Roman Block? Are you two together? He is such an amazing man. I’ve read all of his books and heard him speak twice. Every time I hear him, I leave the auditorium with my feet off the ground for weeks. I can’t believe he’s on this plane,” the mid-40s blonde gushed.
“Listen,” Trent began a little heatedly, but then he caught himself. He wasn’t frustrated with the woman, just the situation in general. He began again quieter. “Yes, it is Roman Block, and yes, we’re together. But please, I need your help. He’s tired. Mr. Block spoke last night and we had to get on the road early this morning to be able to speak in West Virginia tonight,” Trent whispered back, stretching the truth just a bit. His boss hadn’t spoken anywhere the night before and they hadn’t had to leave until nearly noon to catch this flight, but he wanted to make sure his boss got some space or he would pay for it later. “If you’ll help me keep it quiet that Mr. Block is on the plane, I’ll speak to him and maybe I can get you a signed copy of his latest book. It just came out, and it’s sure to change your life,” he said, quoting the book jacket text.
“Oh, sure, I understand,” the woman said nodding knowingly and appreciating that Trent was taking her into his confidence. “Your secret is safe with me. An important man like him needs time to meditate before he speaks to crowds like he does. You have my word on it.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Trent said, smiling as he moved to take his seat. “You’re great. I won’t forget it and neither will Mr. Block.”
When they reached their seats, Trent was surprised to see that the small plane boasted televisions screens built directly into the seats in front of them. On the ground and in the air, they would be able to scan through a series of television channels. Block was already fiddling with it, looking for the 24-hour news network.
“Never hurts to check if I’m on there,” Block said with his brightest smile when he noticed Trent watching him. “But I don’t see anything so far. Guess we’ll have to make some news tonight.” With that, Block punched the button turning the television off and twisted around to face the window. He leaned his head against the wall of the airplane, cushioned by a blanket and closed his eyes.
After seeing that his boss was settled, Trent relaxed for a moment. He pulled out his e-reader so he could read the Bible. The last thing he wanted to do was watch television. It had been a while since he had been able to spend any time reading and he hoped Block would sleep and leave him alone so he could. He needed to recharge his own batteries, too. Trent hadn’t read Block’s newest book yet, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to. He doubted it would “change his life”. He knew the reality behind Block’s writing.
Trent tried to ignore the other passengers as they walked down the center aisle of the small jet. He tried, but it didn’t work. He kept getting jostled and banged around as they streamed past.
The first person that caught his eye was a businessman trying to maneuver a suit bag down the center aisle. He was tall and had to bend over to walk through the plane. From the way the man slumped Trent got the sense that he was carrying a heavy load on the inside, too. The man wore a dark suit, but his tie was loose and his collar open.
Not that Trent would ever know, but the man had just completed a meeting at a vendor’s office. The other company had offered to give him a percentage of the sales if he steered business their way—a kickback. He knew it wasn’t right, but he was struggling to pay for college for his oldest and his ex-wife was demanding more money. He didn’t know what he was going to do, but he doubted he would sleep much.
After the man shuffled past, Trent settled back into his seat. Unfortunately, it was just a minute until the sound of bickering children brought him back to reality. Coming through the open doorway of the plane, two adolescent children were followed by two harried-looking parents.
“Mom, look at this stupid plane. There’s no room for my stuff. How am I supposed to stretch out,” the girl whined.
“Well honey, we can…” the mother started to say, but she was cut off by her son.
“Who cares what she wants. You promised me I would get the window seat this time. I want it,” the boy said with a sneer.
“Son, now behave,” the father began, “Please, keep your voice down a little bit.”
“Just fix it. I don’t want to have to sit near any of these people. I’ll bet they all smell bad. You promised this flight would be nice and easy,” the girl continued as she moved past Trent, banging him with her purse. She never turned to apologize or acknowledge him.
“Hey, we each have our own TV!” the boy exclaimed. “We can all watch whatever we want on our own. Just like at home.”
The kids are obviously in charge of that family, Trent thought to himself. He shook his head and tried to reclaim the last line he had read. He found it a little disturbing that the ill-mannered children sounded vaguely like his boss, but he tried to put that thought out of his mind.
The stream of passengers continued and Trent did his best to focus on his reading. Something caused him looked up just in time to catch the eye of a woman as she moved between the seats and searched for her number.
The woman had a haunted look in her eyes and as soon as she made eye contact with Trent, she looked away sharply. In a previously life, before he had gotten his first job offer in the music business, Trent had volunteered at a clinic for abused children. He had seen that look many times. Trent wondered what the woman had been through to make her closed off from normal human contact.
The woman had made a series of bad choices in her life, from one abusive man to the next. She was doing her best to take care of herself now, but she had suffered over the years and was afraid to let anyone new into her life. She felt all alone and really didn’t know where to turn. She was flying home to see her family for the first time in many years and she wasn’t sure if they would accept her again.
Trent didn’t wonder about the woman very long. The next woman in line, barely more than a girl, caught his attention. He groaned inwardly when he realized she was carrying a baby. Not that he had any problem with children, even on airplanes—it was a short flight after all—but he knew his boss would be tough to deal with if the baby disturbed his rest.
Trent looked at the woman and baby closer. He noticed there was an Army insignia on the baby’s blanket. Looking closer Trent realized the woman was probably about 18 or 19. She looked tired from carrying the baby and fighting her way through airports. She looked tired on the inside, too. He guessed she was either going home after spending time with a husband in the military, or going to see him. The struggle of caring for a young baby, when she was hardly more than a child herself, was getting to her. Trent tried to remember if there was an Army base anywhere near their final destination, but couldn’t recall.
Finally, Trent heard the flight attendant close the cabin door and he relaxed. His boss seemed to actually be sleeping, rather than pretending. The plane wasn’t completely full so people weren’t jammed too closely together. The baby, who had ended up just a couple rows behind him, was quiet. All things considered, it might just end up being an easy flight. Trent quickly lost himself in his bible. The take off was uneventful and the droning sound of the jet engines lulled several passengers to sleep and cut out idle conversation.
Using his e-reader, Trent was conducting searches in the bible on his lap. He wasn’t sure what he was looking for, and the verses his searches pulled up didn’t seem to be fitting the bill for him. He didn’t know if he was searching for the right things; if he was asking the right questions, or what was going on.
Trent rubbed his eyes while the e-reader called up new verses. Trent was looking for something in his life, too, but he wasn’t sure what that was, either. The next three verses the electronic book called up left him even more confused.
“For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” Titus 1:7-9
“Be shepherds of God’s flock, the believers who are under your care. Serve as their leaders. Don’t serve them because you have to. Instead, do it because you want to. That’s what God wants you to do. Don’t do it because you want to get more and more money. Do it because you really want to serve.” 1 Peter 5:2
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Proverbs 31: 8-9
These verses were from the old and new testament. Trent shook his head as he stared at the tablet on his lap. He didn’t understand the connection. He certainly didn’t feel like a leader. And while he was fairly sure people might think of Block as an inspirational leader, well, Trent laughed to himself when he thought of Block in the context of these verses.
His reading concentration broken, Trent looked around at his fellow passengers. He needed to stretch his neck and relax his shoulders. And that was when he realized something was wrong on the plane. The flight attendant looked upset. She stood in the galley area by the cockpit door wringing her hands. Trent was just a few seats from the front and could tell the woman was agitated. Glancing at his watch, he realized they had been in the air about an hour. He realized he hadn’t felt the plane begin its initial descent into Yeager Airport, but they should be on the ground already. Trent pushed the call button over his head.
“Yes, sir,” the attendant said when she approached his seat. “What can I get for you?”
“It just seems like something isn’t quite right,” Trent said, keeping his voice low and speaking directly to woman. “Can you tell me what’s going on?”
“I’m sorry sir, but there really isn’t anything I can tell you right now. Please keep to your seat and stay buckled in. We’ll be landing shortly,” the woman said, and then she turned and walked to the forward compartment.
Just then, the unruly boy in from the family of four shouted out “Dad, look! Our plane is on the news! It says we’re going to crash!”
“What’s that, son? We’re on the news?”
The flight attendant had just gotten back to her station and she grabbed the phone that would allow her to communicate with the flight crew. She looked around nervously at the passengers while she whispered into the receiver.
Just after she hung up, and returned to wringing her hands, a voice crackled over the plane’s loudspeaker. “Ladies and gentlemen,” the pilot began. “Some of you may have noticed we haven’t initiated our descent. We are experiencing a mechanical problem with our landing gear. We didn’t realize there was a problem until we began our initial approach into the Charleston airport, but the landing gear is not deploying properly. We are continuing to work on the problem, but right now I don’t have any more information for you. Rest assured we are in contact with ground control and we have plenty of fuel.”
When the captain paused for a moment to check on something, the passengers began talking all at once. Every one of them either pushed the call button or reached for their cell phones. Several others turned on their televisions to see what was being said on the local news covering their flight. A moment later, the Captain came back on and they grew still again, as if stopped in mid-sentence.
“I’d like to ask everyone to stay calm. I’ll give you more details as soon as I can,” the captain said. “Please stay off your cell phones. We are well above the reach of cell towers at this altitude and they can foul up our navigation equipment. They aren’t going to do you any good. Like I said, please just stay calm and we’ll be back to you in just a few minutes.”
After this follow up message from the captain, the passengers sat silently. They were stunned. Someone began to sob quietly. The boy watching TV continued to relay what he learned from the news reports to his family, and everyone else on the plane in ear shot.
“They say they are mobilizing the emergency crews on the ground and getting ready in case we crash,” the boy said. He had his ear buds in his ears, plugged into the plane’s sound system so he could hear. “They are spraying down the runway in case we try to land without landing gear. And the news guy was just talking about a couple other plane crashes at this airport where planes slid off the end of the runway. This airport is on top of a mountain. If we slide past the end of the runway too far, we could slide down the side of a mountain!”
After listening to the boy’s running report on the news, the stressed businessman Trent noticed earlier left his seat and moved to the front of the plane. He cornered the flight attendant in the forward galley.
“I need to make a call right now,” the man growled, his body language signalling his agitation.
“I’m sorry, sir,” the flight attendant responded, “but no one can make a call out right now. Please take your seat.”
“I will not take my seat. I know you can get a call out and I need it. I’ll pay you whatever you want,” he continued, his volume rising, his tone becoming more confrontational as he moved closer to the woman. “Let me talk to the captain now. He’ll understand.”
“Sir. Please take your seat. The captain and the first officer are both busy right now trying to land this plane. I will not disturb them,” she said more forcefully. “You need to return to your seat and let us do our jobs.”
Trent was about to get out of his seat to help the flight attendant, fearing that the man would become violent, when he felt his boss twist in his seat. Trent hadn’t realized Block was awake or even knew what was going on around them.
“Friends” Block said softly, long accustomed to getting the attention he needed without raising his voice. He raised his arms out and said it again, “Friends” as he half-stood in his seat, certain he could gain their attention and that they would listen to him. Trent had always marveled at the Block’s ability to control a crowd—it took supreme confidence to hold people like that. It was something Trent felt he would never have.
“We all need to remain calm and let these fine people do their jobs. They are trained to handle situations like this. I’m sure we’ll all be just fine,” Block said, using his finely-tuned voice. His desire to remain anonymous was quickly overshadowed by his desire to be the center of attention. Then he focused his attention on the businessman by the flight attendant. “Please sir, take your seat and let this woman do what she’s supposed to do. You are taking her away from her duties.”
The other passengers were momentarily distracted by the sudden appearance of a celebrity in their midst. Block had been on the news a lot lately and nearly everyone on board recognized him. They quieted down to listen to him, hoping he would tell them what to do. The business man slowly returned to his seat.
“This is a dire situation, but we must put our faith in the skills and training of the people flying this plane. We need to trust that they will do their best to return us all safely to the ground,” Block said. “Many of you know who I am and the things I speak about. I teach people to believe in themselves, to trust their own instincts and to know that they can make anything happen if they just believe in their inner strength.”
“Sure, but what does that have to do with this situation?” the business man said, turning to face Block, his voice full of anger and ready to force his way back to the flight deck. “Our landing gear doesn’t work. What does that have to do with inner strength or believing in ourselves?”
“Sir, if you’ll let me finish, I was going to say that we need to believe in the training and hard work that the pilots have put in. I am sure they will get us safely to the ground,” Block responded. “Each of us has the ability within ourselves to do great things.”
“So, what you’re saying is that you don’t have any answers either. We’re not in control in this situation. I believe in myself, but that won’t get this plane on the ground any more safely. I will believe in myself right up until the point where I die!” the mother of the unruly children shouted, hysteria at the edge of her voice. “I believe in the pilots, but that doesn’t help the situation either.”
“Ma’am, you misunderstand me. I was just saying…”
Before he got a chance to finish, Trent stood and interrupted him.
“I’m sorry, sir,” Trent said quietly, looking straight at Block. “I think you’re missing what these people are looking for.” And then he turned to face the passengers. Trent didn’t know what he was doing, or what he was going to say, but he knew in his heart he had to say something. He thought back to the scriptures he had been reading, none of which seemed relevant to his life or his situation, but now, suddenly, they all made sense.
“Mr. Block often talks about focusing within ourselves and believing in ourselves. And all that is fine. We have to be confident in our abilities. But you’re all absolutely correct. In a situation like this, we have to believe in something bigger. We can focus on ourselves all day, but that isn’t going to help this situation at all,” Trent said. “I, for one, trust that God will bring me through this.”
“Oh, here we go. He’s going to tell us about God…” the business man said.
“I’m a good person. I’ve always gone to church. Why would God do this to me?” the father of the two unruly children complained.
“What did I ever do to anyone?” the young mother asked out loud. “Why would God let me die in a plane crash?
“If your God is the sort of God that allows good people to suffer and die for no reason, then I want nothing to do with him,” the woman with the haunted eyes said, tears evident in her voice.
“I’ve given money to charities. I’ve paid to feed the poor. Why would your God do this to me?” the businessman spoke again, challenging Trent.
“Being a Christian isn’t about having a good luck charm or a magic genie to get you out of trouble when you call. It isn’t about this sort of thing at all,” Trent said, a little uncomfortably. He had had a long career being the person behind the speaker, making sure everything went right. He wasn’t used to being the one in front of the crowd, but now he knew it was time for him to stand up and lead this group. He smiled inwardly. He knew God often used the most unlikely people for his purposes, but he never imagined he would be one of them. “It’s about having hope for a greater life. It’s about being loved and something greater to believe in than just ourselves.”
The passengers on the plane were quiet, realizing that the man speaking to them was speaking from the heart. They were willing to listen.
“Being a Christian isn’t about good works, or money, or what you have in front of you. It isn’t about God doing things for us or not. Good people die and bad people live everyday,” Trent said. “I can think of several plane crashes where a lot of good people died. Think of the terrorist attacks of September 11, for example. I’m sure a lot of people on board those planes were praying. That’s living life in a fallen world. There’s sin and hate in this world. It isn’t just about those of us who believe in God. God cares about everyone in the world and wants everyone to be with him. He wants each of us to come to him freely, not to be forced to do it. Think about it. God is powerful enough to make us do whatever he wants. He could command us to obey and worship him, but that wouldn’t make us good people. Choosing to worship and do his will is a lot more powerful than being forced to.”
“What do you mean?” the young mother asked, looking up from the sleeping baby in her arms.
“God’s love is about grace. He loves us in spite of ourselves,” Trent explained. “No matter how good we try to be, or how bad we try to be, God loves us anyway. He loves everyone the same and we’re not remotely smart enough to understand his purpose.”
“Well, I’ll try anything to get out of this,” the businessman said. “Like they say, there are no atheists in fox holes. If I pray hard enough, maybe this plane won’t crash.”
Trent laughed with the other passengers. He could feel the tension bleeding off a bit.
“I’m sure God would love to hear from you, but Christianity isn’t about decisions you make in the heat of a situation,” he said. “I know I’ll die some day. If it happens today, then I know I’ll go be with God. If I don’t die today, then I’ll get more of a chance to serve him.”
“Why should we listen to you?” said one of the spoiled children who had led his parents onto the plane.
“Be quiet, son. Listen to the man,” the boy’s father said, taking charge of his son for the first time in a long time. Turning to Trent, the man asked, “So what should we do?”
“I’m not an expert or a religious leader, but I’ll be happy to pray with anyone who wants to,” Trent said. “Whether you’re a Christian today, used to be one, or never heard about Christ at all. God will be happy to hear from each of us.”
“So, if we pray and I accept him into my life, God will get us out of this and we’ll land safely?” the young mother asked.
“I’m sorry, but no, it doesn’t work that way either. I’ll definitely be praying for God to get us through this safely, but we can’t control God by praying. He doesn’t automatically do what we want him to do just because we ask. What we’ll pray for is for him to save us either way. We just have to open our hearts and trust him. That’s the real reason to pray. If he saves us to this life, we will get off the plane and serve him with the life we have left in this world knowing it could have ended today. If we die today, we’ll go be with him. Honestly, I don’t think it’s my time to die. Something tells me He has more for me to do. Now I (we) must trust him to do his part. If I do die today, then I know I’ll wake up in Heaven tomorrow. That’s good enough for me.”
“I don’t know how to pray,” the haunted woman said, barely above a whisper. “I’ve been trying, but I don’t think he listens to me. “
“All you have to do is open your heart to God, tell him your thoughts and even your fears. Ask him to help you trust him for the next few minutes and forever. He is listening. Trent said. “I’ll be happy to get us all started. I think we should pray for the flight crew while they work to do their jobs. They are under a lot of pressure. Let’s begin by praying for them.”
Trent closed his eyes and bowed his head. All the passengers, including the now-shamed Block, were quiet as they watched the young man begin.
While he talked with God and the others on the plane followed his lead, the flight crew kept working on the problem. Many of them put the next few minutes and the rest of their lives in God’s hands.
How does the story end for you? What would you do?
Visit the church of your choice to help you figure it out. .