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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.


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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Catherine of Alexandria: According to the <i>Legend of St. Catherine</i>, this young woman converted to Christianity after receiving a vision. At the age of 18, she debated 50 pagan philosophers. Amazed at her wisdom and debating skills, they became Christians—as did about 200 soldiers and members of the emperor’s family. All of them were martyred. 
<p>Sentenced to be executed on a spiked wheel, Catherine touched the wheel and it shattered. She was beheaded. Centuries later, angels are said to have carried the body of St. Catherine to a monastery at the foot of Mt. Sinai. </p><p>Devotion to her spread as a result of the Crusades. She was invoked as the patroness of students, teachers, librarians and lawyers. Catherine is one of the 14 Holy Helpers, venerated especially in Germany and Hungary.</p> American Catholic Blog We exist because God is infinitely beautiful, infinitely good, and overflowing with a love that seeks to share itself. When he made us and placed us in this glittering created world, it was an act of pure generosity.

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