Really … Just Five People?!

I was on my way to Switzerland. A storm in the US had interrupted travel plans and as a result, the plane was less than half full. We had boarded and settled in when the Captain came over the intercom.

“We need five people to agree to move toward the rear of the aircraft. We are currently out of balance.” Empty, the plane weighs @80,000 pounds. It so happened that the seat next to me was occupied by a rather slight individual. I would guess his weight to be about 130 pounds. He volunteered to move. (I didn’t take it personally.) But as i watched the other four passengers who volunteered, I estimated their combined weight couldn’t be more than 1,000 pounds. That’s just over 1% of the plane’s weight – empty. With fuel, people and luggage, even with the plane only half full, I have to believe that the total weight of the five volunteers was well under 1% of the plane’s total weight for that flight.

And this is what I am depending on to fly me to Switzerland – at a speed of 4oo mph and an altitude of 37,000 feetReally?

I had no idea how fragile these things were that we fly around the world on!

More recently I was flying from Washington, DC to Burlington, VT. About half an hour before boarding, an announcement came across the public address system. We have an excessive amount of fuel on the aircraft. We need four people to volunteer to take a later flight in order to bring the aircraft into compliance for takeoff.

Really? Four people? Couldn’t you just let the plane idle for a bit, reduce the amount of fuel, and get all your paid customers to their final destination? Or would the combination of fuel and a full aircraft result in the “final destination” for all of us? Is the world really this fragile?

Not to put too fine a point on it … but, yes. The world is that fragile, and it’s high time we face it. While there are remarkable stories of human endurance and the human body’s amazing capacity for healing (see for example this talk by Dr. Gill Hicks, a survivor of the July 7, 2005 London bombings – she begins at 8:10 into the video), as a pastor I have been reminded again and again of just how fragile life can be. It is this way not to cause us to be afraid; it is this way to inspire us to be in awe of it all – the absolute mystery and miracle of the simple fact of our existence.

How fragile are you? Would you be willing to move your 150 pounds, or 130 pounds, or 200 pounds – whatever your body weighs – to another location for the greater good? Perhaps in youth we overestimate our strength. Perhaps as we age we become so in tune with our fragility that we stop living long before we draw our last breath. But if five people can make the difference between a Boeing 737 being in or out of balance, doesn’t that make you wonder what kind of impact you are having on the world today?

Mark Demers

Want to talk about sex, politics, spirituality? So do I. I grew up in a religious home in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Our country was reeling from assassinations and the devastation of the Viet Nam War. Looking for something beautiful, I got a degree in music, married the love of my life and had children. Looking for God, I then went to seminary. Looking for something that might transform the world, I became a local church pastor. Now, I’m always looking for people who want to talk about important things. I cherish conversations with emerging leaders, people who are antsy to try an idea they believe would change the world for the better. I’d would love to hear from you.