Listening to the Hombre Jesus Woman
It’s eleven in the morning, and I’m sitting in the DFW airport waiting for the AeroMexico desk to open. “Oh, they show up late,” an airport employee informs me when I approach him for assistance. “Usually around eleven-thirty.”
My flight doesn’t leave until a bit after two, but I’ve been conditioned to show up ridiculously early for international flights. Never mind that flying to Mexico, like flying to Canada, is only kind of international. I mean, yes, they’re different countries, but you don’t cross any oceans, and you don’t need a visa.
I look for a place to sit and wait, but there aren’t that many chairs on the dirt side of an airport. Just a few token ones for the aged, the infirm, the very young, or the extremely early. Sometimes I feel more like I’m in the first two categories than the last.
I choose a seat in the front row, next to a conservatively dressed woman who could be my age or could be twenty years older, like my mother. Her auburn hair comes from a bottle, but who am I to judge? My own color - blonde with streaks of denim and turquoise blue – comes from bottles, too.
A year ago, I’d have put headphones in my ears or buried my nose in a book, but I’ve decided to take the philosophy of “yes, and,” which I embraced when I rediscovered improvisational theater in 2007, one step further. Everyone has a story, I tell myself. Maybe hers is interesting.
It’s only after I’ve asked my row-mate if she’s waiting for AeroMexico or Avianca that I realize she has no luggage with her. Instead, the two seats beyond her are stacked with biblical tracts and a book that I swear sports the words “Jesus” and “Hombre” though I don’t remember in which order they appear. Even so, she has officially become “the Hombre Jesus woman” in my head.
“I come every Tuesday morning,” she tells me, “to pass out copies of the Bible and encourage people to read it.”
“That’s nice,” I say non-committally, because there really isn’t any other appropriate response. At least, there isn’t any other appropriate response to offer in a major American airport at eleven on a Tuesday morning.
She tells me she used to do mission work, and she thinks if more people followed the teachings of Christ the world would be a kinder place.
“We need more kindness,” I say.
But what I’m thinking is that on one level I agree with her – but only because too many people who claim to be Christians really have no idea of what Jesus actually taught. I’m also thinking that I don’t want to tell her I agree with her because she’ll assume I’m a conservative evangelical right-winger, which couldn’t be farther from the truth.
This is actually an improvement over former versions of myself, because two or three years ago what I would have been thinking is that this woman is a freaking nutcase with no life.
To her credit, she doesn’t offer me any of her books or pamphlets. Instead, she says she wishes she were the one traveling to another place, and she asks where I’m headed.
I tell her that I’m making my annual visit to spend time with my mother, who lives on the beach in Baja, and that I feel both relieved and guilty that I’ve left my husband home with our four dogs.
She tells me she has four kids, and always wanted a dog, but her husband was allergic. She tells me she began to do mission work after her youngest was wounded in Afghanistan. “I was just so grateful to have him back,” she shares.
Together, we watch a family with three children and a luggage pile you could build a fortress from attempt to navigate through the increasingly crowded lobby.
I glance wryly at my own suitcase and explain that the only reason it’s overstuffed is that I’m bringing things to my mother.
In return, I learn that the Hombre Jesus woman’s mother lived on the Pacific Coast, and that she was always bringing overstuffed suitcases jammed with things she’d been buying all year, and coming home with them because her mother did the same.
My mother does that, too.
She tells me, quietly, that her mother died just before Christmas, last year.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” I tell her, and while the phrase is a bit perfunctory, the feeling behind it is not.
We chat for a few more minutes, and then the men in red coats come to open the check-in desk, and she gathers up her paraphernalia.
“Thank you for the conversation,” she tells me. “Have a wonderful trip.” And I can tell that she really means the words she’s spoken.
After she’s gone, I wonder if maybe she was some kind of modern angel, because from the second she walks away, cheap rayon skirt swirling above sensible orthopedic shoes, I notice an intriguing pattern of events to my day:
- My 2-pounds overweight suitcase (according to the scale in my bathroom), crammed full of Things You Cannot Buy in La Paz registers exactly one ounce under the weight limit.
- I get the entire front row of the coach cabin to myself on the first leg of my trip.
- I get the green light at Customs.
- The concierge at the VIP lounge in Mexico City gives me a courtesy pass instead of charging me the $30 day rate, providing me with a comfy couch, free food, and a latte with foam art to while away my six-hour layover.
- The overly crowded cattle-call gate for my second flight, which is really a staging area where they put people on the buses out to tiny regional jets, thins just as I arrive, and I get to sit in a chair.
- A dead ringer for a young Ernest Hemingway, recognizes that I’m too short to reach the grab bars on the van from gate to plane, and gives up his seat for me.
- I get the entire second row of the coach cabin to myself on the flight from Mexico City to La Paz.
- The line of Federales waiting to greet our plane doesn’t select me for a random luggage check, and one of them even cracks a smile.
On an ordinary day, any one of these things would go without notice. Maybe even two of them would be ignored. But in the space of twelve hours, I’m given eight little miracles that make my life easier.
Would this have happened if I hadn’t engaged the Hombre Jesus woman in conversation? Possibly.
Would I have paid attention? Probably not.
Everyone has a story.
Sometimes, if you listen to the right one, the universe gives you a sequel of your own: chapters full of little signs that maybe a conversation isn’t just idle chatter, after all, but an act of kindness in a world where kindnesses come too few, and far between.