Small spaces are tests of character and last Saturday I failed.
I wrote this while sitting on an airplane heading for home after an intense 36 hour trip out of town. I was tired and acutely aware of my identity as a woman after spending the last day with a group of men.
I had the aisle seat because I paid a few extra dollars for early bird check on Southwest, guaranteeing me an A on my boarding pass. I knew it wasn’t a full flight so I hoped to have my middle seat unoccupied.
I relaxed after letting in a young woman to the window seat. It appeared I would have space to breathe…until I sensed the stilling of movement next to me. A small-statured, older gentleman was asking to sit between me and my row mate.
Really? There were rows ahead and behind me that provided equally appealing open middle seats. Why stop here? But, as I said, he was small so I didn’t glare at him as he slid past me.
Two quick points of context:
1. A Stanford professor recently published a book espousing the use of “spreading out” as a strategic move that displays power.
2. As a woman in the business world I was once coached to spread out my things on the table when meeting with other men. Apparently men use space to mark their territory and a neat pile of papers in front of me signals my submission.
Now, back to the seating chart. This man was well dressed and reading the Wall Street Journal. And he immediately spread out. (Note my aforementioned paranoia with “spreaders”). He claimed the armrests on both sides as he perused the newspaper. Unfortunately, today I was not in the mood to give up ground. I decided that he chose his seat between two harmless looking women because he assumed we wouldn’t challenge his power play.
So I dug in. I placed my elbow on the middle armrest right next to his. I wish I could tell you I was conducting a social experiment. Trying to test people’s comfort levels with sharing armrest space. But the ugly truth is I was engaged in a power struggle with a total stranger who I would never see again.
As the flight progressed I became more committed to my quest not to be the first one to flinch. He removed his elbow a couple of times and I resisted the urge to mutter ‘sucker’ under my breath. Never mind that it was actually more uncomfortable for me to sit this way after a while.
About halfway through the flight I decided to get up and use the restroom. When I returned to my seat this power hungry passenger turned to me and in an endearing Indian accent inquired about our time of arrival.
What a monster! Trying to soften my resolve with a non-threatening question. But I was tired of being powerful and bitchy so I kept my elbow off the armrest.
Then– a Peter-in-the-courtyard moment. In the quiet of the resolved tension I was overcome with shame. I remembered my daily prayer “Lord, make me a blessing!” –and wondered where the derailment occurred.
Was it the extreme physical exhaustion? The two weeks of busy activity without taking time to recalibrate my soul? The underlying insecurity in a new situation? The high altitude of Denver?
As we stood to deplane, this lovely man smiled and asked if I was now home. I said yes; that I would soon see my husband.
“Ahh. That is the best. To be home with family,” he replied.
I would have to agree. But even better is to be redeemed. To no longer be a slave to my fears or shame or stupidity. To be overwhelmed with the loving kindness of my Savior–even after he observed my childish, ungrateful behavior. And to be free to begin again. Forgiven.
Ahh. That is the best!
Kelli is a writer, speaker and consultant equipping leaders for a deepening intimacy with Christ, greater impact in ministry and more effective intentionality in all of life.
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