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Flying Lessons View Comments
By Barbara Mangione

THE LOUNGE at the Los Angeles International Airport was crowded, and I was surprised and relieved when I entered to find nearly an entire row of chairs empty. I made for the center of the row and dropped a too-heavy carry-on (Will they notice that it’s oversized? I wondered) on the seat next to me while my husband deposited his hand luggage on the other side. Across from us the chairs were also unoccupied, except for a man in his late 30s and, slumped in the seat to his right, a much older man who appeared to be dozing.

The younger man was tall, face burnt to reddish-brown leather under a weathered white cowboy hat. Western boots, a plaid work shirt, and well-worn jeans set him off from the other travelers waiting for their flights, laptops open on business-casual legs. Father and son, I thought as I pulled an apple out of my bag and opened a paperback. Then, as inconspicuously as possible, I looked over the top of my book and began to study the two men whose presence had discouraged anyone from taking a seat near them.

The older man was as thin and limp as a length of old rope. The brown of his skin was cast with yellow as if the blood had drained away and been replaced with muddy water. Over his long-sleeved shirt he wore a button-less cardigan. His dark, cotton work pants were so faded from washing that it was impossible to determine their original color. At his feet were two tattered duffel bags and behind his back a pair of dingy pillows.

From time to time, the younger man adjusted the pillows, attempting to pull the older man to a more upright position. The father would open his eyes for a moment and then, exhausted by the effort, he seemed to will himself to breathe. I leaned toward my husband. “The old man is dying,” I told him. He, too, had been watching. Around us other eyes were intent on magazines or engrossed in TV news or computer screens. Although more people had crowded into the lounge, our two rows remained islands of space— almost as if they were protected by an invisible fence or a wall of glass.

A deep breath, almost a rattle, shook the old man’s body. His son jumped to his feet, readjusted the pillows, looked at his watch, and began to stare into the distance as if listening for a voice. Uncertainty agitated his features, and he took a few steps toward the flight desk. Then he began to pace—five or six steps toward the desk, another half-dozen back to his father’s side. “I’m going to ask if I can help him,” I whispered to my husband.

“Wait a minute. Let’s see what he’s going to do,” was his answer.

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Barbara Mangione is retired from teaching Italian and Spanish at the University of Notre Dame and on the high school level. Having lived in Italy, Mexico, and Colombia, she now resides in South Bend, Indiana.

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Hilarion: Despite his best efforts to live in prayer and solitude, today’s saint found it difficult to achieve his deepest desire. People were naturally drawn to Hilarion as a source of spiritual wisdom and peace. He had reached such fame by the time of his death that his body had to be secretly removed so that a shrine would not be built in his honor. Instead, he was buried in his home village. 
<p>St. Hilarion the Great, as he is sometimes called, was born in Palestine. After his conversion to Christianity he spent some time with St. Anthony of Egypt, another holy man drawn to solitude. Hilarion lived a life of hardship and simplicity in the desert, where he also experienced spiritual dryness that included temptations to despair. At the same time, miracles were attributed to him. </p><p>As his fame grew, a small group of disciples wanted to follow Hilarion. He began a series of journeys to find a place where he could live away from the world. He finally settled on Cyprus, where he died in 371 at about age 80. </p><p>Hilarion is celebrated as the founder of monasticism in Palestine. Much of his fame flows from the biography of him written by St. Jerome.</p> American Catholic Blog Therefore if any thought agitates you, this agitation never comes from God, who gives you peace, being the Spirit of Peace, but from the devil.

 
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