Little did I know when I boarded Flight 3332 out of Kansas City, Mo., what a memorable trip it would be. As I seated myself for the three-hour flight, a screaming, hysterical little boy wearing glasses sat opposite me and used adult reasoning to explain to his mother the fear he had of air travel.
Nearby, a bearded twenty-year-old suffering from a hangover listened exasperatedly as the boy responded to the safety announcements.
“I am not supposed to be on board this plane,” he said. “It is not good for me to be scared. I don’t care about exit doors, flotation devices and oxygen masks. I want to get off this airplane!”
Since we were making a stopover in Washington, D.C., it did not seem out of the ordinary that Congressmen Dennis Moore (D.-Kan.) and Bob Etheridge (D.-N.C.) would be on board.
Having had the chance to debate with numerous individuals on important moral issues, it has always been my desire to discuss those same issues with the lawmakers they put into office. Hence, I was overjoyed when Congressman Etheridge squeezed his six-foot frame into the seat next to me.
The ingredients were all in place for the flight of a lifetime; a screaming kid tormenting a young man vainly nursing a hangover and an outspoken defender of life sitting next to a liberal congressman. The congressman had no place to go since it was a full flight and I could not help but relish this captive audience.
Congressman Etheridge took a brief nap, but when he awoke I started a conversation, which lasted the remainder of the flight, with a simple question, “What is your position on abortion?”
“I have never had one,” he responded. It was somehow clear he was not saying, “I never had a position on abortion,” but rather, “I never had an abortion.” This became obvious when, visibly upset by my importunity, he shot a question back, “Have you [ever had an abortion]? What bothers me about such a question,” he continued, “is that it is always men who ask it and men oppose [abortion].”
Such an inappropriate remark coming from a man who should have more substantial arguments was surprising. It was a response one would not expect from an elected official who is supposed to be knowledgeable on such issues in order to vote wisely.
“I have met many more women than men who oppose abortion,” I responded, “and a lot of women who have actually had abortions only to regret it later and work to abolish such a practice.”
The next stage of our discussion began with Congressman Etheridge lamenting that pro-lifers often oppose legislation that would help children born into disagreeable situations.
It was clear to me that he was pointing out the apparent inconsistency on the part of conservatives who defend life but are portrayed as being callous toward children born into poverty. This is not an uncommon argument and it has always seemed to be one meant more to confuse rather than refute the opponent.
I simply reminded the congressman that pro-lifers did not only engage in efforts to stop killing unborn babies, but they also assist desperate mothers. This translates into everything from free health care to diapers.
Since we were speaking about contradictions I could not resist reminding him of the huge inconsistency among liberals who promote abortion that kills the unborn, yet cynically push legislation meant to help children in need.
“What good is such legislation for a baby who dies by abortion?” I asked.
Since he seemed to be speechless I could not resist adding what I consider the biggest legal contradiction in the abortion debate.
“How is it that we can have abortion on demand,” I asked, “yet prosecute a man and send him to prison for double homicide when he kills a pregnant woman. Is it a blob of flesh or is it a human being?”
At that point, anger got the best of him. He pointed out that it is not every day that a person gets three hours of private time with him since he normally doesn’t take such long flights.
“But I refuse to be lobbied for the duration of this flight,” he concluded.
“That’s an unfair accusation,” I responded, “I am just an American passenger on a plane discussing important issues with an elected official.”
Stroll Down Memory Lane
Seeing that I was not likely to get a substantial response to a serious issue, I turned to a point of common ground—our Southern heritage. He grew up on a farm in North Carolina while I grew up on a farm in Kentucky. Both of us had experienced similar things such as the hard work in a tobacco field, which provoked a nostalgia we found irresistible.
Recalling my life on the farm and wondering about his life in North Carolina, I told the congressman how I would like to have known him when he was a young man. It was my last chance to remind him of a time when he would have defended the innocent.
“You should run for office,” the congressman said.
Such a suggestion, coming from an elected official, albeit on the opposite side of the political spectrum, seemed odd, even if flattering. I interpreted it as the extended hand of an ideological adversary who mistook my Southern affability for weakness.
Before the flight was over I decided to put one last shot of pepper in the pot.
“Why would you want me to enter politics?” I asked him with a smile. “If I did, I would obviously fight you tooth and nail, but always as a Southern gentleman.”
Our stroll down memory lane was ending as was our flight. The little boy across the aisle turned in our direction, providing me a glimpse of his face. His eyeglasses gave him an intelligent look, which confirmed my first impression that he was a reasonable boy.
He is embarking on a life of decisions and his rational way of being is a very useful thing to lead him down the right path. When all is said and done, I had a lot of sympathy for the little boy. He, like me, disliked air travel because of a healthy fear and argued his point rationally. It goes without saying that such a logical boy would oppose abortion.
The congressman, on the other hand, in an attempt to defend the erroneous practice, became angry and resorted to emotional and illogical arguments. He has lamentably traveled far away from his childhood dreams when he most certainly would have responded logically to the world around him.
Reflecting on the little boy and the congressman I could not help but think about what Paul Bourget once wrote, “One must live as one thinks, under pain of sooner or later ending up thinking as one has lived.”
I knew as we were landing in Washington, D.C., that I would never, in the course of a three-hour flight, change the way Congressman Etheridge thinks, but it was certainly a flight of a lifetime.