A Christmas Miracle
As many of you know this year I've taken up a rather transient lifestyle. Having becoming employed as a train driver in Gladstone, yet still wanting to keep very much in touch with my friends in the Redlands, I've spent many an hour in the air flying between these two centers.
Living in the regions brings with it the joy of convenience. Everything that does exist in a town is usually not too far apart. In Gladstone this includes the airport: a mere 3.8km walk from my apartment. Like any good child of Dutch ancestry, paying $15 to catch a taxi this short distance is something that never meshes well in my mind. So it came to pass on the afternoon of Christmas Eve that I found myself walking the familiar route to catch my flight back to Brisbane. There was much to be excited about: my father was home from China (a rare occurrence), I was going to see my beloved friends, and my dear girlfriend, Heidi, was coming to join me for a couple of days from Boxing Day.
The boyhood indulgence of getting to the airport extra early to “watch the planes” had over time taken a bit of a back seat: this would be my 40th flight for the year. With such experience, I developed a pretty time efficient routine: leave home 70 minutes before my flight was due to depart, get to the airport with 10 minutes to spare before boarding and save too much waiting around.
To make the walk go faster, I was planning on talking to Heidi on the phone. However, since she was with family, she was off playing a board game of some sort. This would turn out to be quite important. I did field a call from my mother, however she was afraid of running out of credit (somehow this relic of history was still relevant to her). After hanging up I noticed that I'd missed a call, and that whoever it was had been nice enough to leave a message: “It’s Julie from QantasLink, I’d just like to know if you’re planning on taking any luggage today as the baggage check in is about to close.” This seemed strange: I’d never received that kind of call before, and I never took any checked luggage anyway. Something prompted me to check the Qantas app, just to make sure that everything was still okay.
In my mind, I was booked on a flight leaving at 1640. I was sure that I’d checked this multiple times. To my horror, the text on my phone in front of me said that the flight was actually departing at 1620. I hastily checked my watch. 1553. Seven minutes until boarding commenced. I’d just passed Stockland Gladstone. Think: how long to go? Over 2 kilometers. Verdict: This is not good.
What does a person do in this situation? Well, I ran. All of my casual jogging, it seemed, now had a purpose. But as I was running I got to thinking: I had 16 minutes to do 2.4 kilometers: I’d already walked more than another on what was a 30+ degree afternoon. I’d been awake since 2:30 AM. I started to doubt that running would be the answer to my problems. So what else? A taxi? I've had experience with those before. Sometimes they were there as soon as you called, other times they took hours. I also knew that the taxi booking system was so frustrating that there was just as good a chance of me throwing my phone into the creek in frustration then there was of me actually getting somewhere.
Could I catch a ride? I could see the airport from where I was: I could see my plane! Surely one of Gladstone’s finest would pull over to offer a poor man a short lift. Putting those other thoughts aside: the ones about people getting murdered doing this, I stuck out my hand as I was running along the road to see if I could catch a ride. But to no avail. Cars came, cars went by. Damn this society! I thought to myself though, would you give this man a lift? This panicked looking, strange man that was wearing casual clothes and holding a bag yet for some reason running along the side of the highway? Probably not: in fact I would have much more likely uttered words to the effect of “Who’s that idiot?”
The hope of catching a lift was quickly turning out to be quite a false one indeed. I was quite tired by now too… but I kept going, sweat now streaming down my face: my shirt was pretty much ruined as well. By now it was past 4 o’clock and I still had over a kilometer to go. What would happen if I missed my flight? It’s almost Christmas, would I be able to book the next one? How much would that cost? As I was facing the dread of these thoughts, however, I spied something up ahead. A police car: it had pulled over a beaten up, old VN Commodore and its occupants were likely receiving a ticket for one of those offences they usually commit: registration expired, unlicensed driving, something of that nature. This could be my chance.
I dragged myself the 400m up to the Officers and quickly caught their attention. This was perhaps no surprise as surely, I looked quite a sight. This was no time for terrible elocution, however. “I’m terribly sorry, is there any chance I could get a lift to the airport. I’m about to miss my flight.” The lady Sergeant looked a little taken aback, but she didn't delay in offering up a response. “We can, but you’ll have to wait!” Decision time. Do I wait for the police to finish writing the ticket and potentially miss my flight? Or do I keep going, having to cross the busy road right in front of them and continue on to the airport, potentially missing my flight anyway. I wasn't quite sure what they would do if I ran out on the road in front of them, and it seemed a reasonable offer, so I chose to wait. I glanced at my watch however; things were getting really tight indeed. 1605.
The next three minutes were perhaps the longest minutes I've remembered for quite awhile. I tried to figure out how long the police were going to take to finish writing this ticket, but I really couldn't tell and it actually ended up coming as a surprise when they said “Alright, take care now” to the occupants of the Commodore. So I jumped in the back of the police car. This was a first. The Perspex barrier was there, there was no legroom at all in the back: but I was quite glad to be there. Even then I appreciated the fortitude that I’d apparently run into.
So off we went. Lights, sirens, through red lights: I suppose while this all seemed like a really big (and kind of embarrassing) show to me, such things are rather every day for the police officer. “If you make this flight you’re going to be soo lucky,” said the Sergeant. In my heart I couldn't help but agree. With the kind of driving that I suppose only a police officer could get away with, we were soon at the terminal. Perhaps it was quite a puzzling site for all and sundry to see: a police car showing up in all its bedazzled glory, only for a relatively common looking man to be let out of the back and simply walk away.
It wasn't without a few puzzled stares that I got into the terminal and made straight for the check-in counter. I’d looked at my watch one last time and saw that it was 1610, 10 minutes to take off. The electronic kiosks would be useless now. “You look like you’re on that flight,” said the man behind the desk. “Go straight through security and straight to the gate, the flight is closed but hopefully you can still make it.” Once again I was thankful that I was it Gladstone: there was no way I could make up such time if I’d been at Brisbane domestic.
Through the security I went making my politest excuses for pushing in. The people were understanding: it was Christmas, I guess. Of course, as usual I was pulled up for the extra bomb detection test. I never seem to evade these things, and even on a day like today things were being properly taken care of. Out of that and straight to the gate and possibly one of the most ridiculous yet enjoyable comments I've ever heard.
“You look like Baywatch!” The flight attendant at the gate truly had mastered the art of making a flattering comment out of what was probably a rather disgusting spectacle. He handed me my boarding pass, told me that there was enough time for me to put my belt back on (I’d removed it for security and had it still in my hand) and sent me on my way. Scampering across the tarmac, taking my seat at the back of the 717 (luckily I had an empty seat next to me or else it’s occupant might have killed me for my smell) I had time to reflect on just how much out of my control had to go right for my mistake not to be much more costly.
All of a sudden though I got to deeper thinking. As a result of my own ineptitude, I’d managed to dig myself into a hole that it quickly became obvious through my efforts I could not extract myself from. Only through influences entirely out of my control did I catch that flight. The day before Christmas, what an apt illustration I appeared to be being shown.
…For like with my flight, in my life I've done plenty of things that are wrong. Things that do not honour the God that I know to exist. Even if I did try to put them right, I could never succeed. I can try to reach out to the world to find some sort of fulfillment, but that too will always betray me. My salvation, my deliverance then, can only come from one source.
2000 or so years ago, a baby boy was born to a virgin woman in a manger in Bethlehem. Though a child like any other, he was Emmanuel: God with us. His perfect life and his death on a cross some years later happened so that people like me, who do the wrong things, can come to know God: can come to have salvation. It’s a salvation that is not in response to any good thing that we can do, and it’s a salvation that will continue despite all obstacles that come before us.
Lastly, and most poignantly — In Christ: just like yesterday, we find a salvation that leads us to the best place. It leads us home.