Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

In The Most Unexpected Of Places

By STEPHEN O'KANE, Commentary | Published September 16, 2010

Editor’s note: The Georgia Bulletin blog debuted in June. Since then staff reporters and editors have been posting commentaries and stories related to their work at the newspaper and other aspects of life at the blog, which can be found at The following commentary was posted on Sept. 1.

Last Sunday, as my wife and I boarded a plane scheduled to leave from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport heading to Atlanta, we arrived at our seats to find an older woman in the row, her head buried in a stack of documents. We did not exchange hellos as not to bother her and so we quietly took our seats, excited to head home after a busy weekend celebrating the marriage of my oldest brother to his lovely new bride.

During the flight, my wife Jacqui and I participated in our usual flying traditions: reading, listening to music, the occasional game of Yahtzee on my phone and general silliness. All the while, the woman next to us remained silent and we never shared a word. This is somewhat unusual for us as both my wife and I are always eager to make new friends.

The woman continued to review her documents throughout the flight and then, as the plane pulled up to the gate and we removed our safety belts, she leaned over to my wife and asked quietly, “¿Hablas español?,” (“Do you speak Spanish?”) to which Jacqui responded, “Un poquito” (“A little”). Jacqui then asked in Spanish if the woman spoke any English and she replied, “Nada.” The woman smiled and we exited the plane, happy to finally be home after an exhausting (but amazing) weekend.

As we entered the terminal, I walked briskly towards the end of the corridor in order to quickly get to the car since we still had another hour or so to drive from the airport. Then I heard Jacqui call my name and I turned around. She said, “I’m a little worried about that woman. Maybe we should see if she needs help.” I paused, reluctantly nodded and we returned to the gate to wait for the woman. She eventually emerged with a bewildered look on her face, visibly overwhelmed with the busyness and chaos of the Atlanta airport. We could certainly empathize with this woman, as Jacqui and I are both Atlanta residents, we both speak English, and sometimes we still have trouble getting around that place.

We approached the woman and watched as a smile spread across her face, happy to see familiar faces. After several failed attempts to find out where she needed to go, we were able to ask for her boarding pass and found out she was traveling to Argentina, presumably from Spain since we both detected a strong Castilian accent. We picked up her bags and escorted her to the tram, which we rode to the other end of the airport, in the meantime picking up small bits of info as she happily spoke to us in a language we could just barely understand. She was heading to Argentina to visit her children and had been traveling non-stop for a while, as was visible by the stack of boarding passes she had and continued to review like she did throughout the flight.

All of us began to cheer as we found the gate and led her to the agent to check in. After everything was taken care of at the counter we led her to a place she could finally sit and relax. Her eyes teared up as she asked us our names and hugged and kissed us saying, “Mis hijos, mis hijos!” (“My children, my children!”).

It was then that it hit me that this was not just a random encounter. What was originally seen as an inconvenience by me ended up being a powerful spiritual experience as I suddenly recognized the face of God in this lost, confused and seemingly helpless woman.

A weekend watching my brother enter into that sacred union of marriage with his bride was such an amazing blessing and witness to Love, but God graciously allowed us to have one more encounter with Him and one that was totally unexpected.

It seems that often God is right there with us, much like that woman on the plane, but we completely miss the opportunity to encounter Him as we are usually in our own world doing our own thing. It isn’t until we take some initiative that He reveals Himself!

I’m sure many of you have encountered God in the most unexpected of places, and we would love to hear your stories.