Organized religion doesn't exactly get the best view nowadays.
A few months ago, I wrote this piece about not complaining for two weeks and the impact it had. One of the results listed? "I prayed more." Needless to say, for the conglomerate of atheists that read the piece, it was the only point many could really focus on. Safely behind a screen, I was called things from naïve to mental (in a few more words). By all means, you have the right to that opinion. That's the beauty of writing; you put yourself out there and people either applaud or hate. This experience didn't bother me as much as it made me realize: "Wow. Some people really hate religion."
Who can blame people for having these negative opinions? Anytime an act in the name of religion hits our media--it's quite usually something negative. Religious wars, persecution, priests or rabbis acting poorly towards others. And since you read enough about the bad, I want to give you a bit of the good.
I struggled writing this for over a month because no words can show how much this act of kindness meant to us.
My husband and I were very blessed to take our honeymoon to Australia. We had a series of one way flights from Sydney to Melbourne to Cairns (to see the Great Barrier Reef) and back to Sydney. We were blessed to celebrate our marriage with over 200 people--a lot of whom bought us gifts and excursions through a honeymoon registry. I say all this to say--we're not destitute. We were happy, middle class Americans on a honeymoon.
When we reached the Tigerair desk to check in for our flight to Cairns, everything seemed to be running smoothly. For those of you that don't know, Tigerair is a low budget airline (think: Ryanair) that often has hidden fees if you're not careful. We booked our flight through an agent, bought our baggage allowance (40 kilos), and were ready to go.
Or so we thought.
When we each checked in through the automated kiosk, we were both printed receipts of our baggage allowances that I purchased through the agent. Alex's read "0 Kilos" and mine read "40 kilos". We then proceeded to have an entire conversation about this. We had two bags but both weighed less than 40 kilos. We were nervous that they would say the allowance could only apply to one bag, so while waiting in line, we discussed the option of the second bag acting as a carry on. We felt super prepared.
When we got to the desk, the agent took our receipts, ripped them, and threw them in a bin.
"It's saying here that you don't have a baggage allowance," she said not looking up from the screen.
"Actually it said so on that receipt," I said with a smile, "That you just ripped up."
She glared and said "No. It said zero. And you've only given me one boarding pass."
Alex and I have very similar names, so she thought that we had given her two copies of the same pass.
We kindly explained to her the mistake and asked her to get the receipt out of the trash can. Needless to say she wouldn't do it. Needless to say this entire issue could have been avoided.
"Fine." I said sternly, "I'll pay for the bag now and take it up for reimbursement with the airline later."
Turns out, one of the hidden fees includes that after 15 kilos, you are charged per kilo in your bag.
"That will be $300AUD, cash," she said plainly.
You guessed it. Alex and I were not prepared. We didn't have that much cash on us. No credit card. And a useless debit card that had more than enough money "pending" from several of our paychecks, but not enough in the account to clear.
Yep. We were screwed.
"If you booked through an agent, you need to take it up with them."
Cut to me on the phone for an hour and a half and Alex begging the airline to let him go through the trashcan.
It was pathetic.
We waited in line again and spoke with the manager of Tigerair, who not so kindly said,
"Sorry. You have to check in in the next 5 minutes or you'll miss the flight. There is nothing I'm willing to do."
We had booked one way tickets to each city so "coming back" for the bag wasn't an option. Either Alex and I had to book 2 new tickets for that day to Cairns or just leave our bag in the middle of the airport.
Most unfortunately, this was not the first time I resulted to crying at a "check in" counter in an airport (someday ask me about that time that Alex and I were detained in Costa Rica). The airline wasn't about to help us. We couldn't help ourselves. And we found ourselves in an unfortunate situation. Two honeymooners who were simply in an unfortunate situation.
Well (spoiler alert), I prayed. And I figured God had done all that he could do and that Alex and I were just meant to skip the Reef and carry on with our vacation. It was a disappointing and frustrating situation to be in, but by no means a tragedy.
"I'll pay for the bag," said a voice to my right.
It was a Priest. In my mind, God pretty much said
"Alexii, your situation is stupid and petty because I've got my hands full with war and famine right now...but this guy is a good guy and he'll help you out on my behalf."
"No Father, we can't take your money," Alex said.
The priest had already given his card to the attendant.
"Well, you kids can't pay for it. So what else are you going to do?" he said with a modest smile.
We were visibly ashamed. Taking money from a priest? We weren't destitute. We were just two people dealing with the mistake of an airline...one that we couldn't prove was their mistake.
Afterwards we thanked him graciously and asked his name--where he served at--both secretly thinking we could send him money in a few day's time.
But, he knew what we were doing. He wouldn't tell me his last name. He wouldn't tell me his parish.
"Just, Father James from New South Wales."
He was beaming to see that we had just gotten married and offered us good wishes.
"Can I at least make a donation to your parish?" I said.
"No," he responded simply, "Just pray for me."
In addition to praying for this good Samaritan, Alex and I will be making a donation to the Catholic Archdiocese of Canberra (I have a huge feeling that Father James is from there although I can't be certain) in his name. If this story has moved you to do the same, click here!
Or if you want to give back in a different way? I encourage you to look past labels. Look past vestments and hijabs and kippahs. Look at people.