A thank you from a frequent traveller

Published November 1, 2003

I am writing these notes in a retreat house in the foothills of the Rockies and have spent some of the time in self-examination, (something I always do on retreat) looking back over my time in the office I hold. With a long list of failings to choose from, I decided that the most serious was not saying “thank you.” How easy it is, in a life so full of events and travels, to move so quickly from one thing to another without pausing to say “thank you.” Over the years as primate I have spent 48 per cent of my nights away from home and most of the travel involved has been by air. When I reflect on that travel and compare the ease and brevity of my travels to the rigours our ancestors underwent in even the briefest of journeys, I am moved to give thanks to God for the privilege of living in these times. But most of that privilege comes at the hands of people I rarely thank, except perfunctorily. It is commonplace these days among air travelers to talk about the deterioration of service, the long lineups, the discomfort of long trips, and on and on. And certainly there is truth in all that. But I want to raise a contrary voice, a voice of thanks and tribute. In my years of travel by air I have received and observed from the persons who deal directly with the public, an exemplary ministry of competence and patience at check-in counters and during flights. And this is especially true on the occasions when I am the person who presents a problem! Standards rise and fall, policies appear and vanish, alternatives are proposed and disappear (where are the high speed trains on shorter routes that we hear about?), but the interpretation to the traveler remains with the front-line folks. The deregulation of travel has brought some benefits but has left a vacuum in the realm of policy, which gives the traveler a sense of insecurity, (and incidentally increases the gap between the privileged front of the plane and the cramped rear). But think how crucial transportation and communication are in Scripture. Two of God’s most frequent commands are “Go!” and “Speak!” From Abraham to the apostles, the word is “Go!” From Moses to Paul the message is “Speak!” Both “going” and “speaking” are intended by God to bring people together, to enable relationships to grow and flourish, and, through all that, to draw the world into unity within itself and with its maker. Obviously, travel can be used for evil purposes (and so we have airport security) and communication can be used to injure (and so we have laws about libel and slander). But I remain convinced that greater potential for travel and communication (not just for the rich!) gives greater potential for the increase of human understanding and of God’s grace. Jesus told his disciples over and over that the person who serves is most to be valued. He not only said it – he modeled it, exemplified it and died to proclaim it. There are hundreds more people I need to thank, but it seems right to start with people who treat the transient with welcome, the tiresome with patience, the bewildered with help. So, to the airline front-line, a tribute from one who has always been transient, sometimes tiresome and often bewildered. Archbishop Michael Peers is primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.


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