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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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Columban: Columban was the greatest of the Irish missionaries who worked on the European continent. As a young man who was greatly tormented by temptations of the flesh, he sought the advice of a religious woman who had lived a hermit’s life for years. He saw in her answer a call to leave the world. He went first to a monk on an island in Lough Erne, then to the great monastic seat of learning at Bangor. 
<p>After many years of seclusion and prayer, he traveled to Gaul (modern-day France) with 12 companion missionaries. They won wide respect for the rigor of their discipline, their preaching, and their commitment to charity and religious life in a time characterized by clerical laxity and civil strife. Columban established several monasteries in Europe which became centers of religion and culture. </p><p>Like all saints, he met opposition. Ultimately he had to appeal to the pope against complaints of Frankish bishops, for vindication of his orthodoxy and approval of Irish customs. He reproved the king for his licentious life, insisting that he marry. Since this threatened the power of the queen mother, Columban was deported to Ireland. His ship ran aground in a storm, and he continued his work in Europe, ultimately arriving in Italy, where he found favor with the king of the Lombards. In his last years he established the famous monastery of Bobbio, where he died. His writings include a treatise on penance and against Arianism, sermons, poetry and his monastic rule.</p> American Catholic Blog There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church—which is, of course, quite a different thing. –Bishop Fulton Sheen

 
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