It had been a while since I was on a two propeller plane. I was on my way to Binghamton for a regional meeting, and saw the little thing sitting there on the runway. I travel all the time, and pride myself on being intrepid, but for some reason this one made me a little nervous.
Nevertheless I got on board, and sure enough, the little thing managed to get into the air, if a little wobbly. I was sitting on the wing, looking out to the right, when I noticed the propellor was slowing…then stopped.
Well surely, I thought, there must be a backup engine that kicks in after take-off. I looked to my left, and that propellor was still going. Hmmm. Hmmm. The flight attendant was looking more attendant. Nobody else seemed to notice. Must be no big deal. After a long five minutes the pilot came on to explain that the right propeller had failed. Happens all the time (well, not all the time, but sometimes and its just fine). We’ll just turn around and go back. No need to worry.
We’re all so well-trained now to be obedient in air travel, and so we waited obediently. I saw the young mother in front of me pull her two year old son much closer. The elderly veteran to my left smiled encouragingly at us all. The young woman to my right suddenly turned to me and started talking about all that she noticed around her. Instantly we were a community — attuned to one another and engaged in a common enterprise– the task of coming to terms with life, with what was most meaningful and present to us in that moment.
We made it back fine, if a little rockily. And we sat huddled together in the terminal waiting for our next plane feeling connected and displaced at the same time.
Community can happen in an instant. I know there is a particular kind of community that happens when people engage with one another over time and through many different kinds of experiences — people who choose to be with one another. And then there’s another kind of community that can come when we least expect it, and are not trying to construct it. It happens to us, and we only have two choices at that point: respond with openness or close down into our own fear. Religious community is like that. We can work really hard to construct our perfect version of what we want to surround ourselves with. Or we can be open to something unexpected and unbidden that speaks to us of life’s energy at its core. The two aren’t mutually exclusive of course, but I wonder how often we give credence to the second kind, or think about how we might respond when community happens. When spirit is born.