Monday, September 17, 2012

Introvert on a plane

As most of you know by now, I love to read.  Really, truly, love it.  Most books I pick up are religious in content, although I also enjoy anything with a psychological/sociological aspect, because I'm kind of fascinated by people. 

And as most you also know by now, I am a complete and utter introvert.  (This goes well with the book-loving.)  I tend to remain silent in group settings, it can take me awhile to fully process things, and I prefer a good one-on-one conversation with a close friend to a raucous party.

So anyway, imagine my excitement when I learned that Susan Cain had just written a book about introversion!  And not just a book, but a delightfully insightful exploration of our culture's long history of prizing extroversion, and the resulting consequences in areas like religion, business, and education.  Be still my heart. 

Now I just so happened to get the book from the library the day before I flew to Dallas for the Catholic New Media Conference.  And yes, I see the humor in bringing a book on introversion to a conference all about social media.  I devoured the first few chapters on my flight out (we introverts don't like to talk on airplanes, see, so a book is an excellent diversion--especially a book with a title like Quiet.)  I hoped to do some more reading once I arrived.

But the conference itself was busy and not very quiet, so I looked forward to some precious quality time with my book on the flight home.

Except that, as luck would have it, the woman who wanted nothing more than to read her book about introverts landed a seat next to the loudest, most extroverted man on the plane.

No joke.

He was noisy, opinionated, fond of expletives...and funny.  The first twenty or so minutes of the flight were devoted to his complaining about Dallas, a tirade which I think he could probably use as a stand-up routine in a comedy club.  (Just not a comedy club in Dallas.)

Then he told me about his Jesus-freak of a brother, and about how he hates religion. 

And it was probably around this time when I started wondering if there might be a parachute under my seat.  Because surely jumping from an airplane mid-flight would be less awkward than my having to admit that not only am I a Jesus freak too, I'm Catholic.

Of course before I could divulge any of that, I wound up having to explain my family.  I have been married ten years already, I have a slew of kids, seven to be exact, four of them adopted, two of them were born with Down syndrome, and one baby on the way. 

After helping the man overcome his shock (the official and uncensored Heldt Family Disclosure tends to have that effect on people), I figured nothing I could possibly reveal about my faith would phase him.

And, it didn't.  We actually wound up talking the entire flight (with me gazing longingly at my book every so often, still tucked sadly away in my purse), covering such topics as religion, good deeds, violence, adoption, Hell, parenting (he has two children), and Joel Osteen. 

Yes, Joel Osteen.

Because he had a Joel Osteen book with him, which seemed funny to me since he'd already announced his disdain for any and all religion.  But he said his boss had recommended the book, and he saw it in the airport bookstore, so he bought it.  I told him that with a title like Every Day a Friday, he probably couldn't go wrong, because Friday's are generally pretty awesome.  He agreed.

I have to admit that by the time our plane touched down in Denver, the guy had grown on me.  In spite of the fact that my anxiety was at an unbearably high level, because hello, I am an introvert.  But I rarely have conversations with strangers outside of comboxes, especially strangers who I have very little in common with.  Not because I don't want to, but I'm an at-home mom, and I don't go very many places.

His story was fairly predictable for a forty-something American from Nebraska: he'd been raised Catholic, he walked away from religion at some point and eventually came to hate the hypocrisy he saw in Christianity, but is concerned about the moral decline of our country.  Interestingly, at no point in our conversation was either of us combative.  (Had it gone down that path, I would have jumped for sure, parachute or no parachute.)  He was interested, plain and simple, in my story and in my family, and in what compelled us to choose the life we've carved out for ourselves. 

It was actually a good reminder of the power of story.  People are naturally curious and inquisitive, and I think that in this day and age especially, they want to see life.  Because one need not look far to see where society has taken us--life, dignity, and perserverance in the face of trials are ever so slowly disappearing from the cultural landscape.  Instead, the stories being written today seem to be more about convenience, materialism, and the freedom to destroy masquerading as, well, freedom.

Now don't get me wrong.  I'm sure I had about as much impact on this man as Joel Osteen probably did, sitting (and smiling--I wonder if he ever isn't smiling?) unread in the man's backpack.  I didn't make a convert out of him (I wasn't trying), I didn't convince him that he and his wife ought to adopt a child (I wasn't trying), and I am sure he's long since forgotten about the shy woman on the airplane that he initially thought was a teenager, but who turned out to have a slew of kids and a weird affinity for Jesus.  But that's not really the point.  The point is that I shared a small piece of the story that God has given me, and I'm always saying that God's story ought to be told, and sometimes the opportunity arises to share it in person in a most unexpected way.

Even though I'm much more comfortable doing so in front of a computer screen.  In my pajamas.

It all seemed so ironic to me that a trip dedicated to spreading faith and hope through online communication would ultimately end in the sharing of my faith in person with a stranger, something that is much harder for me to do.  And the man was such a loud talker that I'm sure half the plane could hear his half of the conversation.  ("What kind of crazy lady must he be talking to?", is what they were probably wondering.) 

I'm also sure that any Dallas residents were completely offended by his observations about their beloved Texan city.  If you are one of them, I'm sorry for laughing.  His jokes may have been mean and laced with cusswords, but they were funny, and I was socially anxious.

And yet maybe it's not so ironic afterall, because maybe the point of all of it is to try to live a good story, and to vulnerably share who we are with the world and allow God to do what He will. 

After I'd exited the plane and bid my seatmate farewell, I caught up with my friend and fellow conference attendee (and fellow introvert) and asked how his time on our flight was.

And he smiled.  And said the following:

"It was great!  Nobody talked to me.  Just how I like it!"

Sigh.  That's how I like it too. 

That's why I brought a book along called Quiet.

And that's the story of what happens when an introverted Catholic sits next to an extroverted ex-Catholic on a plane.


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