Building Bridges in the Air
Late September, 2004.
Commercial flight; Salt Lake City, Utah.
Husband, two daughters and I
board our final plane for return trip
from seeing eldest daughter
who lives in Bozeman, Montana.
Tired from white-water-rafting
the Gallatin; horseback riding
Moonlight Basin in Big Sky,
I settle in my aisle seat;
plane is nearly full
but for a few scattered seats
here and there.
Husband and two younger daughters
are assigned three seats in front of me.
Last-minute passengers enter near cabin.
Who will occupy the empty middle seat next to me?
Woman enters by the cockpit.
Traveling solo, she is completely covered from head-to-toe
in nondescript garment, except for her face.
She heads down the aisle.
I sense she’ll become my row-mate.
We make eye contact.
I stand, move aside to let her in.
As she takes her seat,
I imagine hostilities she may have endured.
She settles in and pulls out a book:
the cover, in Arabic, denotes religious instruction.
I open a novel, but I’m not reading.
“Where’re you headed?” I ask.
“I’ve been visiting
with my husband’s family
in Utah,” she says, smiling.
I gesture toward mine, sitting ahead of us.
“I always wanted a daughter,” she says.
She speaks proudly of three grown sons.
“I always wanted a son,” I say, smiling.
Originally from Pakistan,
she’s been in the States twenty-five years.
I ask her how she likes living here.
She says she’s encountered no prejudice in Boise, Idaho.
“Once my boys were grown, I began to teach
women in my community
and our holy book, the Koran.”
“I, too, am involved with church,” I say.
Bible study has become an important part of my life.”
“I’m Bader,” she says. “It means ‘moon.’”
“Hi, I’m Sarah.” She smiles in recognition.
“The wife of Abraham,” she says.
We talk quietly among ourselves; the plane hums along.
I pull out my small, leather travel Bible.
She becomes inquisitive. “Tell me, who’s Paul?”
I express my deep admiration for the leading apostle;
the writer of powerful letters
who once persecuted Christians
until his dramatic conversion.
I hand her my book. She opens it.
Bader explains how Muslims study
the Bible’s first five books.
She mentions Abraham and Moses,
David and Jesus; and the angel Gabriel.
I tell her of my study of the Old Testament,
how I’d just recently completed
a series on the Tabernacle.
“We Christians are like a tabernacle,
the temple of the Holy Spirit.”
Bader has more questions,
and we chat the entire flight.
She hands me a bookmark
with a Muslim insignia.
“It’s yours to keep,” she says.
She recommends another book:
“More in Common than You Think.”