And the First Shall be Last
By Deborah Porter © 22nd April, 2006
It was stampede time at Coolangatta airport, one second after a bored voice announced that passengers on Flight 192 to Sydney could now join one of the three color-coded aisles, as indicated on their boarding passes.
Steve, Matthew and I were ready. We’d already been through the "orange, blue and silver" boarding pass system when we left Sydney the week before. Orange was reserved for those passengers who had children, or needed assistance. They boarded first. Blue was for the people who had checked in over an hour before departure. They boarded next. Finally, silver was for those unfortunate souls who were completely clueless and had arrived at the airport after the blue boarding pass cut-off time. They boarded last of all, and with no assigned seating, that meant "get ready for the worst seats on the plane."
On our first trip, we scored a silver pass. You would think that silver would be so much more valuable than orange or blue, wouldn’t you? But no, our silver pass earned us a seat in the tail section--right next to the toilet and one step removed from the back door. (By the way, you would never believe how many people need to use the bathroom on a one hour flight. I’m sure that air travelers must have bladders the size of walnuts!)
Having watched the first season of the television series "Lost," Matt and I had been joking about not wanting to end up in the tail section. I guess the lesson is that you should be careful what you laugh about--it may come back to bite you. It wouldn’t have been so bad, except we didn’t even get a window, or overhead storage space for our carry-on bags. However, the big plus was that we were actually the first people to step out the door after the plane landed.
A week later, we were determined to get one of the coveted blue passes for our return journey. We did briefly toy with the idea of having Matt walk into the terminal on his knees, in the hope that we may be able to pass him off as a kiddy-wink, but decided that probably wouldn’t work. Airport staff are trained to spot things like 18-year-olds masquerading as toddlers, and such. Having discounted that option, we did ask if he would mind having his leg broken so that he could fall into the category of "passenger needing assistance," but for some reason, he wasn’t overly keen on that idea. In fact, he suggested that it might be better if I tried that particular idea out on myself.
So with the orange pass totally out of the question, we set our sights on the middle-of-the-road blue one. The only thing we didn’t want was the ratty, silver one again!
Arriving at Coolangatta Airport nearly two hours before departure, we checked our luggage and were beaming from ear to ear as we walked away with our three blue boarding passes. Success truly does smile on effort.
Lunch was a casual affair, within easy walking distance of the boarding gate, and we relaxed in the knowledge that we were home and hosed--whatever that means!
Then came the call, followed closely by the aforementioned stampede as the three categories of passengers--previously nowhere to be seen--all attempted to head to their appropriate lines.
Smugly, we ambled over to the centre blue section, only to find our way blocked by a multitude of people. Looking at their hands, I was shocked to discover that they all held those completely unattainable orange boarding passes.
Dumbfounded, we stood back as the "golden ones" merged into one swarming mass of favor. Glancing around, I realized, to my dismay, that almost every passenger was in possession of one of those "get-on-first" bonus items--a child!
Tail section, here we come again!
The mass of chosen ones was so thick that the glare from their boarding passes almost warranted the donning of sunglasses. We couldn’t even make our way through their midst to our own, near empty, blue line.
This was not the way it was meant to happen. This was not part of our plan!
When we had left Sydney, there had been a paltry handful of children, and a very small number of orange-passed passengers. Somehow during the intervening week, families had exploded out of nowhere.
They say that misery loves company, which is probably why my eyes kept scanning hands in search of other "bluey’s," or better yet, a glimpse of those silver unfortunates who had been relegated to the dregs. Both carriers were few and far between.
What could we do? Well, given the circumstances, not a lot. But thanks to a quirky sense of humor and a sudden dose of overdue humility, we chose to laugh at ourselves. After all, we had done everything humanly possible (short of adopting a child or breaking bones) to ensure a good seat--and we had been so smugly confident this time around. I think Matt and I may have even indulged in a high-five as we walked away from the check-in counter. Forget "success smiles on effort"--let’s try "pride goes before a fall" instead.
As we stood amongst the mass of humanity, Matt and I even dared to joke, once again, about the tail section. For some reason, it didn’t really matter anymore. After all, it wasn’t like we were flying to America! Even though I wanted my son to be able to enjoy a window seat on his first flight in many years, I realized that in the big scheme of thing, it wasn’t worth getting bent out of shape over.
So we laughed, eavesdropped on the buzz of conversations around us, and waited.
Then the plane was delayed, and some of those orange-boarding-pass-families started to crack under the pressure of twitchy toddlers, cheeky children, and annoying adolescents. By the time the little jet pulled in at the gate, I was more than happy for the harassed parents to go first. They deserved it.
The orange-passes seemed to take forever to come to an end, but then finally, it was our turn. One by one, the blue pass holders made their way through the gate, until at last we too stepped onto the tarmac. Straight away, we were faced with a dilemma--should we enter by the plane’s front door, or the back?
Weighing the pros and cons of both, I opted for the back door. I would like to say that it was a follow on from my new found humility, but I’m afraid there was still a little spark burning inside that really, really wanted to get seats for my family with a view that was slightly better than the "Occupied" sign on the toilet door. So, figuring that the front section would probably fill up first, the three of us scurried up the back stairs, past the overused bathroom, and down the aisle--finding two rows with three seats each and window views. Matt slipped quickly into one row, and Steve and I plopped ourselves into the row behind.
I learnt a lot from that flight (other than where the emergency exits are, and that earphones cost $3.00 a piece). For one thing, I learnt that in future I really need to fly with an airline that has assigned seating--I don’t think I was cut out for the whole color-coded thing. Who knows? If we’d been any later on the first trip, we may have ended up strapped to the wing.
I also discovered that as "sweet" as I may seem to those around me, that sweetness goes all too easily out the door when the pressure is on, or my status quo is disturbed. Although I was able to give myself a good kick in the pants and eventually have a good laugh, the reality was that my first reaction was not at all Christ-like.
Jesus made it very clear that, as His disciples, we should be prepared to step back and let others have preference. Our reward for such selflessness may not come this side of eternity--but it will come. No deed, good or bad, ever escapes the eyes of our Heavenly Father.
In the end, Steve, Matt and I were blessed with very good seats on our trip home from Queensland. Even so, I can’t help thinking that, from God’s point of view, it may have been better for us to be contented, selfless, silver-passed, tail section, toilet viewers instead.
* * *
"And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first."
(Matthew 19:29-30 NIV)
Debbie Porter has encouraged, inspired and entertained thousands of men and women around the world through her writing since June, 2000. Her greatest desire is to encourage and build up the people of God to believe in their God given potential and to step into everything they were created to be. Deb lives with her husband and two teenagers in Sydney, Australia. You can contact Debbie through the "Your Letters" page of FaithWriters’ Magazine, or by visiting her website at http://www.breathfreshair.org