Original Link : https://medium.com/@elisong/spiritual-string-theory-40f980a3752a
How a Stranger On a Plane Reminded Me Of Human Connectedness
It was New Year’s Eve and I had just boarded a Southwest flight from Norfolk (pronounced “Naw-fick”) back to Austin (pronounced “watch out for grackle poop and hipsters”) where I attend seminary. In thinking that I had a tiny window of time for my connecting flight in Chicago, I decided to pick the first open seat towards the front of the plane. This was a difficult decision as I was foregoing the comfort of the few extra inches of an exit row seat for peace of mind of making my next flight. Fortunately, for me, I was able to snag an aisle seat next to a woman who was with her young child who sat by the window.
“Thanks for letting me occupy this space,” I said as I threw my overly stuffed carry-on luggage in the bin above.
The woman, mid to late 30s, was unbelievably kind from our very first exchange. She had this warmth to her that was both familiar and foreign in a way that reminded me of my family and other southeast Asian friends. I decided to fight against my normal inclination to slip my headphones on, which eventually led to an enlightening conversation on faith, family, and life.
Ugh, yes I’m that guy that will talk to you on a plane.
She first inquired about my hoody that I was wearing which proudly boasted my seminary in large white letters. There was a genuine interest in her tone and so I shared a brief snapshot of how I got to this point in my life. Without too many details, I summarized it with the following: Adventure, Advocacy, and Awakening (I love alliteration.)
I talked about how I grew up in Virginia and after graduating I started feeling this emptiness that began to build up inside of me. It was a narrative similar to the journey which most classical heroes undergo. You know, where they are yanked from their lives of monotonous mediocrity to epic greatness? (For example Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, and the dogs from the Homeward Bound movie — not the cat though, sorry.)
I told her how I took off on a quest to satisfy that craving and landed in Phoenix (pronounced “too damn hot, why did I do this?”). Upon arriving in Arizona I began a curious journey that led me to work with Arizona State University, student startup tech companies, statewide LGBTQ advocacy, immigration policy, and faith organizing. All of these things eventually led to the catalyst of discerning the path to seminary.
Okay, so maybe it wasn’t a brief snapshot but was she impressed or at least feigned interest. I then asked her about her life and without as many words she told me an amazing tale of courage and perseverance all while entertaining both me and her daughter with crayons, snacks, and hand sanitizer. I also feel like now is an important time to mention that I don’t normally take things from strangers but..
I never turn down free snacks.
And then the topic of our respective faiths came up. She is a Jain (a person who practices Jainism) and I am a Christian (Episcopalian if we’re getting in the weeds).
I tried to placate her concerns of me trying to evangelize or proselytize her by stating that I have participated in interfaith communities and organizing so she didn’t need to worry. I told her that I respect everyone’s beliefs and enjoy learning about the diversity in how different people worship. The look in her eyes was a mix of shock and skepticism but we powered through the conversation.
We began to discuss some of our theologies and recognized the shared similarities and also the differences. She mentioned that while her husband is actually Hindu and she is Jain, they were in the process of finding a private Christian school to educate her daughter.
“I think, at the heart of all our beliefs, there is goodness. It’s all the human stuff and processes that bog down the essence of our respective faiths and spiritualities,” she expressed with the wisdom of an ancient sage.
To my liturgical professor’s likely discontent, I wholeheartedly agreed with her. And it was in that moment with this stranger where I remembered the “invisible string” that has bound my journey throughout my entire life. It is the same string that binds me to my community and ourselves to each other.
The string is entwined with Goodness and Love.
It has been woven into the fabric of my life. Present at times when I thought it was scarce but in reality it flows in abundance. It is the dynamic force that moves me to do the work that I do for those that are marginalized and oppressed. And, it is the foundation on which my faith resonates from — it’s my Infinity Stone (minus the “murdersnap”).
I believe, this Invisible String, is present in all faiths and spiritualities. Further, I think this string is not limited to those who participate or follow a particular belief. For my secular humanist or religious “nones”, the string exists beyond labels or institutions that often systematize the kindness that already exists in your identities and life narratives. In short, the String helps keeps us connected. I’m no physicist and I’m barely a theologian, but I firmly believe that there is something that spiritually permeates space to unite us all.
At the end of the day, my conviction in my personal faith has not changed because of another person’s belief. Instead, it gives me new ways to perceive how goodness is expressed and manifests in the world.
The string is always there. Sometimes it just feels like strands of free floating pet hair, but it’s there. To quote Prime Minister Hugh Grant from one the best Christmas movies ever, Love Actually, “If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.”