I used to love playing pranks on people. One time on April Fools Day when we were kids, my younger sister and I put cream cheese in my mom’s deodorant and she didn’t notice for like three days. It was spectacular. Two years ago, though, I thought an airline was playing a joke on me, and I quickly learned that what was going on was serious, and I could potentially be spending my last moments on earth running through the airport to get away from an explosion.
On April 1, 2012, I was flying back to Arkansas from being in Houston for a bridal shower. Noland and I were engaged, I was in full-fledged wedding planning mode, and it was nearing the end of my last semester of college, so I was also trying to graduate. It was a little chaotic, to say the least.
So my Dad and I go grab lunch at our favorite five-star culinary establishment, Whataburger, and he takes me to the airport. Every time my dad drops me off at the airport he always does two things: he kisses me on the head, and tells me he’s proud of me. And every time I walk away holding back tears, because there’s something that hits really deep when your dad tells you he’s proud of you, and this time was worse because I was in a really emotional/nostalgic season of my life.
Anyone who has flown Southwest Airlines knows that if you’re going to or from somewhere in Texas, you do the Texas two-step and take some really ridiculous route where you either have to go through Dallas or Austin to go wherever you’re going next. So I was going to Little Rock, but I had to change planes in Dallas. I get to Dallas, no big deal, have a quick 30-45 minute layover and I board my next plane for Little Rock.
As soon as I get to my seat, a flight attendant comes over the speakers and says, “I’m so sorry everyone, but TSA just called, and we’re going to have to de-plane. Please take all of your belongings with you, and get off the plane as quickly as possible.”
The other thing anyone who has flown Southwest Airlines knows is that flight attendants double as stand up-comedians, which, next to bags flying free, is the best part of the whole experience. So my first thought is, “OK, funny Southwest — April fools. I’m not moving.”
Well then they turn the plane completely off. Have you ever been on a plane when that happens? It was eerie. At that point I knew whatever was going on was serious, and I could hear my heart beating through the unusual silence on the plane. In my already emotional, nostalgic, I just left home and I miss my family already state, I immediately started melting down a little bit.
I grabbed my backpack and followed my fellow travelers back into the terminal, and it was like a movie scene. TSA was herding people like sheep out of the terminal. Mothers were yelling for their children. People were scrambling and the TSA officers were yelling, “Move! Faster! Everybody out!”
My first thought was, “Oh my gosh. There’s a bomb in here.”
And then I thought, “Any moment Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock are going to bust in and they’ll tell us we’re all extras on Speed 3.” (I learned in that moment that comedy was obviously a defense mechanism of mine when facing possible death.)
So I just start speed walk/jogging, weaving through people and praying under my breath, “Please, God, don’t let this be real.” I was on the verge of tears, by myself, confused and slightly terrified. I was picking up my phone to call my mom (Noland wasn’t my natural go-to yet, we were only engaged!), when I turned and saw a familiar face.
Standing there were a couple of friends of mine from Nashville, who were on the road playing music, flying from the Northeast leg of their tour to finish up in Texas. Ironically, I had just talked to this friend the previous day, and we both agreed we missed each other and we wish we’d known when we would see each other again. They pushed through the crowd to get to where I was, and instantly I was comforted and calmed — mostly by the nonchalant nature of my friend Drew, who was only mad that he was going to spend his first day off in 22 days stuck in the airport.
We snagged a table at Chili’s and he bought me a drink. We spent an hour or so catching up, and my mom, who I’d obviously freaked out by my previous panicked phone call, was very comforted to know I’d found some friends and everything was fine.
About an hour later, TSA made an announcement that everything was clear and we could head back to our gates to re-board. I hugged my friends goodbye and we went our separate ways. I got to my gate and they were just yelling out names from boarding passes that had been taken when we boarded the first time, handing them back to passengers. I thought this was a little bit alarming, considering we’d just dealt with a bomb threat, but I guess they were confident that the suspicious baggage’s owner was not on flight 2944 to Little Rock. I could have been anyone, but they trusted that I was Sara Krimm and gave me back my boarding pass.
I sat back down in my seat, and I was thankful that they were handing out complimentary drinks for the inconvenience, because well, my nerves were still a little high, and Joe Somebody sitting next to me could have been the potential criminal!
During my 50 minute flight from Dallas to Little Rock, I thought about how crazy everything that had just happened was, and I thought about how it’s so like God to take a massively chaotic, scary, potential disaster of a situation, and give us a really sweet gift in the middle of it.
Maybe it was coincidental. But I like to think that God heard me tell my friend Ellie the previous day that I missed her, and He thought, smiling at His uncanny kindness, “They’re crossing paths in Dallas tomorrow and they don’t even know it.” And so He planted that little suspicious suitcase right there in the middle of Terminal B just so we could spend an hour together.
This is what He is in the business of doing. Taking our chaos, our fears, our disastrous moments and making a way through it. And that one hour at a table with my friends was like the still waters He promises He will lead us by, even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.