When You Don’t Want to Smile

March 12, 1963 Keith, KY flood            March 12, 1963–Cumberland River Flood, Harlan County, Kentucky

 I left for the airport in plenty of time, but I wasn’t looking forward to this trip. After I had accepted the speaking assignment, the town where the event would be held had been hit by flooding. I had called the hostess to express my sympathy and offered to reschedule. She was adamant the event would go on. Then she added, “We need your funny stories.”

The problem was I didn’t want to be funny. My grandparents had been forced out of their home years ago when the Cumberland River in Harlan County, Kentucky jumped its banks. I knew about flood waters. I knew about the loss of precious family photos and family treasures. I knew about family Bibles with generations of history plucked from the mud when the brown water returned to the river bed. How could I possibly offer anything to folks who had faced that? Oh, Lord, please help was my constant prayer.

That prayer still was on my mind as I approached the automatic check-in. Just as I started to slide my ID into the slot, an agent called for attention.

“A storm is moving in, so we’re trying to get many of you out early. If you have a ticket for the 8:25 connecting through Chicago, please step over here for rebooking and immediate departure.”

Well, that was me. Before I knew it, I was in a group escorted through the express security line and onto what now was a packed plane. My seat was at a window in the back.

I always ask for an aisle seat as far forward as possible, so my new seat assignment assured me this trip was off to a bad start. Just as I settled in and leaned against the cold wall, my seatmate sat down.

“How ya doin’ today?” he said as he buckled up.

“Fine, thanks.” I was in no mood for chitchat.

“This earlier flight sure was a surprise, huh?”

“Sure was.” I reached for a magazine in the seatback pocket. Maybe if I read he would ignore me.

“You going to visit grandkids?”

Now I was irritated. What an arrogant assumption that any woman wearing slacks and having gray hair didn’t have corporate reasons for being on a plane.

“No. Business.”

“Oh. What do you do?”

I sighed. “I talk.”

“Oh. Really.” It crossed my mind he wanted to add, “Could have fooled me.” Instead he said, “What about?”

It was time for a show-down. “Look,” I said. “I’m known for my funny stories. I tell about goofy relatives and zany experiences from the School of Hard Knocks. But this time I’m going into a town hit by intense flooding, and I don’t want to be funny.”

He settled a flat pillow behind his neck. “Well, you can be grumpy after you speak.  Those people need to laugh for even a few minutes. They won’t be forgetting their pain. They’ll just be reminded good days will come again.”

I murmured a surprised “Uh, thanks” as he closed his eyes. Then I looked out the window and watched the ground rush by as the plane headed into the sky. God had answered my prayer for help. Just not the way I had expected.

(adapted from page 221 of The One Year Women’s Friendship Devotional by Cheri H. Fuller and Sandra P. Aldrich)



About sandrapaldrich

Sandra P. Aldrich, author and popular speaker, loves the Lord, family and all things Appalachian. Isaiah 41:9-10
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