have been asked one of the greatest enduring questions by a young girl wearing a matching mother-daughter outfit, waiting in line at the airport. She is talking to me, since there is nobody else behind me. She asks again and I smile, providing the most basic answer: I am a teacher.
This answer is not to her liking.
“Teacher? What will you be when you do
Teaching is not enough? Then I don’t know.
I ask her the same question, and she takes a slow look around and says, “Just a moment.” I am secretly pleased that the conversation is halted by the ticket agent calling “next in line,” making the little girl and her questioning disappear. Now I wish I had had an answer.
It seems like such a basic question with an answer that can easily be provided with a diploma or curriculum vitae of sorts, right?
After all, we build a plan for reaching academic and professional goals in pursuit of “being” something. We make a plan; we fill out applications, take jobs. When are we not
something in our adult life?
From a distance, I look at the little girl, swinging her pink purse back and forth as her parents complete the traveling transactions. As they begin to move away from the counter she waves back. “Just a moment”
: what a clever answer.
Once in flight, I look over course material I will soon teach to graduate students. They know what they want to be when they grow up. They are working toward it.
My rationalizing is interrupted by turbulence and a “get into your seats and buckle up” warning. I look at the man seated next to me. He is casually reading through a magazine, seemingly oblivious to the turbulence. Noticing my distress, he attempts to calm me down.
He assures me the turbulence is not a problem. It actually means we are not flying high enough. It so happens he’s a pilot for a humanitarian aid group. He asks where I am headed. I know you are trying to distract me before we plummet to the ocean, Mr. Pilot, but it is not working.
For just a moment my mind gives me a glimpse, a snapshot of the little girl waving back at me at the airport. I wonder if this man knew what he wanted to be when he grew up. I ask.
“I still don’t know,” he says. “But I am sure you get that answer a lot.” Not really. I’ve been too busy trying to figure this out for my own life.
There seems to be very little he has not done: teaching, consulting, traveling around the world with various humanitarian aid projects, etc., etc. As I listen to his stories I wonder: What if we never really grew up and into a specific “be”? Is it just the task at hand that we must worry about? How do we know it’s the right task God wants us working on?
He opens up his laptop and shows me photographs of his travels. Most of them are aerial views from the cockpit: clouds and sunsets. Yet he knows exactly where the plane was geographically placed when the photograph was taken.
He has always known that the priority of his life is to help others. He states the obvious: “It’s all work. But it’s the underlying Christian purpose that determines what I will do. I am always growing up. As long as I continue to ‘fly higher’ I will not struggle with the question of whether I am in the right place right now. I just do the work He places in front of me at the moment.”
Just a moment. That is all we need. To grow into a moment always certain it is the right work with the right guidance to get there.
“God gives to everyone sufficient light and grace to do the work He has given them to do” (Christ’s Object Lessons
, p. 265).
And just like that, the turbulence ends.
Dixil Rodríguez, a college professor and chaplain, lives in Texas. This article was published August 11, 2011.