Even before the flight took off, we knew who would be offering our in-flight entertainment. The man in the seat in front of me began by taking out a ballpoint pen, putting it into his mouth and then taking a dramatic inhale. "You probably all think that I am smoking," he announced. "But I want to assure you that this is not a real cigarette, it is actually a sophisticated medical device that I use instead of smoking."
"That's not a medical device," his seatmate muttered to her friend. "It's just a pen."
Well, that set him off. For the rest of the flight he was ranting, turning around in his seat to beat in time to the music on his headrest, lecturing the invisible politicians he believed were accompanying him on the plane ride, and spilling strong drinks.
Finally a flight attendant came and sat next to him, calming him with a cup of water, gentle words, listening skills and the kind of thoughtful diplomacy that we could really use in Congress these days.
At the end of the flight, two police officers put the inebriated man in a wheelchair and whisked him away. As a student of human nature (another word for "nosy") I followed them to see what happened, as did another man who began to ask questions of the police.
"Do you know this guy?" they finally asked him.
You could see the man hesitate for just a minute before saying, "Yes, I work with him. We're going to the same meeting."
"Can you look after him?" they asked.
Again, another long pause, and then, "Yes, I can help get him to the hotel."
Jesus once said that our family members are not just the ones we share a family tree with, but he never said it would always be tidy and reciprocal.
Tomorrow that guy may not even remember who rescued him and took care of him the night before. So I want to make a note in his family tree: On one sad night, a hard-working flight attendant and an exhausted work colleague both claimed him as a brother, whether he remembers it or not.
As the new year approaches, I pray for patience with the other members of God's family, and the love to consider them my own family as well.
And for all the times I have been the sister or brother no one wanted to claim, I thank God for being patient with me.