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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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Charles de Foucauld: Born into an aristocratic family in Strasbourg, France, Charles was orphaned at the age of six, raised by his devout grandfather, rejected the Catholic faith as a teenager and joined the French army. Inheriting a great deal of money from his grandfather, Charles went to Algeria with his regiment, but not without his mistress, Mimi. <br /><br />When he declined to give her up, he was dismissed from the army. Still in Algeria when he left Mimi, Charles reenlisted in the army. Refused permission to make a scientific exploration of nearby Morocco, he resigned from the service. With the help of a Jewish rabbi, Charles disguised himself as a Jew and in 1883 began a one-year exploration that he recorded in a book that was well received. <br /><br />Inspired by the Jews and Muslims whom he met, Charles resumed the practice of his Catholic faith when he returned to France in 1886. He joined a Trappist monastery in Ardeche, France, and later transferred to one in Akbes, Syria. Leaving the monastery in 1897, Charles worked as gardener and sacristan for the Poor Clare nuns in Nazareth and later in Jerusalem. In 1901 he returned to France and was ordained a priest. <br /><br />Later that year Charles journeyed to Beni-Abbes, Morocco, intending to found a monastic religious community in North Africa that offered hospitality to Christians, Muslims, Jews, or people with no religion. He lived a peaceful, hidden life but attracted no companions. <br /><br />A former army comrade invited him to live among the Tuareg people in Algeria. Charles learned their language enough to write a Tuareg-French and French-Tuareg dictionary, and to translate the Gospels into Tuareg. In 1905 he came to Tamanrasset, where he lived the rest of his life. A two-volume collection of Charles' Tuareg poetry was published after his death. <br /><br />In early 1909 he visited France and established an association of laypeople who pledged to live by the Gospels. His return to Tamanrasset was welcomed by the Tuareg. In 1915 Charles wrote to Louis Massignon: “The love of God, the love for one’s neighbor…All religion is found there…How to get to that point? Not in a day since it is perfection itself: it is the goal we must always aim for, which we must unceasingly try to reach and that we will only attain in heaven.”   <br /><br />The outbreak of World War I led to attacks on the French in Algeria. Seized in a raid by another tribe, Charles and two French soldiers coming to visit him were shot to death on December 1, 1916. <br />Five religious congregations, associations, and spiritual institutes (Little Brothers of Jesus, Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Little Sisters of Jesus, Little Brothers of the Gospel and Little Sisters of the Gospel) draw inspiration from the peaceful, largely hidden, yet hospitable life that characterized Charles. He was beatified on November 13, 2005. American Catholic Blog You know, O my God, I have never desired anything but to love you, and I am ambitious for no other glory.

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