This story is from a little over four years ago. My sisters and I thought we were on a trip to Florida to say good-bye to Dad, though it turned out he lived a few more months. The incidents recounted here happened on that flight.
I posted this story on an earlier blog I had, but due to a crash I had no copy of the story. Today, my sister (M) found a printed copy. I was able to mostly scan it and rebuild it. I am sharing it today because it’s still funny to me.
The Monomyth of Little Man
He was a cowboy. The hat and boots gave him away. The smokeless tobacco was another sign.
He was afraid of flying, but he was flying anyway. Whatever purpose put him on that plane, it was a powerful purpose.
I have never seen anyone as fearful of anything as that cowboy was of flying. When we were pushing away from the gate he was already in full panic mode. I was one row behind him and across the aisle; I had a ringside seat for observing the cowboy’s angst. It was quite a show.
He was sweating. He was rocking. He would put his head between his knees. He would mop his face with his cowboy hat. He would look skyward, as if praying. He was pale. He would rock some more. His eyes were wide. He was looking around wildly and giggling like a schoolgirl.
He was afraid of flying, and we weren’t even flying yet.
Once we were rolling down the runway, the panic worsened. I feared for the cowboy.
As Providence would have it, a sweet pastor’s wife sat across the aisle from the cowboy. She was missional, it seems. She laid her sweet hand on his sweaty shoulder and patted him gently. She spoke to him gently. She engaged him in gentle conversation. I was able to overhear some of the conversation.
The cowboy admitted that he was afraid of flying. But we already knew that.
I believe I heard that he is from Oklahoma. I don’t have any idea why he was going to Tampa through Indianapolis. I do know that when the flight attendant asked about something to drink, he got two little bottles of whiskey. He mixed the whiskey with nothing else. He said he needed to drink it straight to help him get through the flight. The two little bottles of whiskey didn’t last all that long. The pastor’s wife continued her conversation. The cowboy relaxed a little bit.
Until we hit a slightly turbulent patch. That erased even the little bit of relaxation that had been achieved by the good offices of the pastor’s wife and the whiskey. He grabbed the flight attendant’s arm. She told him to think of it as riding in a pickup truck on a bumpy road. The cowboy tried to imaging that. I think his bumpy road was in Oklahoma. But it didn’t help.
The pastor’s wife and the whiskey kept the cowboy alive until we were in the landing pattern. The sweet tittle pastor’s wife took her mission seriously. The preparation for landing, though, brought on a fresh wave of agitation.
When the big wheels hit the solid ground, the biggest smile you have ever seen on the face of a cowboy broke out. He was glowing. Whiskey and wheels-down did the trick for him. He was home again, although he was in Tampa and not in Oklahoma.
When we disembarked, I couldn’t help but notice that this cowboy was not full-sized. He was definitely not a little person by the standard definition, but he was about a three-quarter sized cowboy. He was a full-grown adult man, but of small stature. His size is of no consequence to this story except for the new characters I am about to introduce.
For I was traveling to Florida in the company of my two sisters. The were seated in front of this little theater and seem to have been totally unaware of the minor drama that was unfolding on the impromptu stage.
Nearly everyone on the plane went immediately to the restrooms, myself and my sisters and the cowboy included. While the cowboy and I were it the bathroom, he dropped his cell phone. The flip- broke off from the -phone and the battery scooted across the floor under the row of sinks. I looked at the cowboy and said, “You’re having a bad day.” His response: “I’ve had worse.” I like the attitude.
As we headed for ground transportation—my sisters and I—we were walking behind the cowboy, who seemed to be heading to the same place. His trouble was continuing. His jacket wouldn’t stay on his bag and he dropped it a few times. I’m not sure if he was embarrassed by his plight, or if it was the whiskey, but his face was a little red.
As we walked, I recounted quietly to my sisters the story of the cowboy on the plane. My sisters listened attentively.
We all waited for the shuttle. When the tram doors opened, the cowboy stepped on.
Then he stepped on out the doors on the other side.
Try to imagine it.
My sisters are compassionate women. They are every bit as compassionate and missional as that sweet pastor’s wife. My sisters—let’s call them Y and M—care about people.
Y and M knew, having flown into and out of this airport multiple times, that the cowboy would be in trouble if he let those tram doors close. He would find that his only way back to civilization would be to go through the security lines again. lie was in a place where you come to the airport, not a place where you leave the airport. Having heard about his bad experience, they were worried that his day was about to become worse instead of better.
Sister Y is a quick thinker. So is sister M, but she has a governor in place that allows her to think before her mouth works. Sister Y and I have in common a system that is missing that governor. We are blurters. What we are thinking comes out our mouth before we have a chance to censor it. No end of trouble has come because of the missing governor, but that’s not the point of this story.
Sister Y thinks/says, `’Come back, little man!”
Try to imagine hearing that.
The small cowboy on the exit platform heard it.
There is some dispute as to whether sister Y intended to be heard by the cowboy or just by those of us standing closer to her. But whatever her intentions were, in actuality the cowboy heard her say it.
“Come back, little man!”
The little man came back. He came back through the exit doors onto the tram before the doors closed. Disaster averted. The little man heard the admonition to come back, and he came back.
What happened next is the stuff of legend: the cowboy thanked sister Y.
The incident is already wrapped in mist, even though only a few days have passed. In my creative memory, the cowboy looked at my sister,—looked up at my sister—tipped his cowboy hat by holding the crown and lifting the hat slightly, nodded his head just a tad, and said, “Thank y”, ma’am” But I think he simply said, “Thanks.”
At this point, both sister Y and sister M were in serious danger of losing their composure.
Sister Y, who had caused the scene to begin with, withdrew to the far reaches of the tram car, leaving sister M, who was an innocent bystander, to stand face to face with the little cowboy. Sister M somehow managed to keep her act together for the minute or so we were on the tram. Once the cowboy was gone and we were all back together, she was no longer able to keep it together. She let it come apart.
And thus, another catchphrase enters the family annals: “Come back, little man!” And you can use it if you want to.