by Jennifer M. Ginn—
I expect the luggage pickup and car rental at O’Hare Airport to be just as I remember it from long ago. I plan to retrieve my suitcase from the luggage carousel, take the elevator down to the rental car counter and pick up my car. Not anymore! Times have changed. Now my luggage and I will need to hop on a shuttle bus to head to the offsite rental car complex.
An easy task if one has packed light. But in my life, packing for a full week means checked luggage. I have a monster suitcase with me. As I reach the shuttle bus, I know there will be no “hopping on” for me.
But to my surprise, my awkward stoop to lift that heavy bag up the shuttle steps is intercepted by a young man. He touches the handle and says, “Here, let me get that.”
“It’s heavy,” I caution.
“No problem,” he replies cheerfully.
We get on and look up to the only space left on the luggage rack. Before my heart has time to sink, the young man again takes charge and muscles my suitcase all the way to the top.
During the ride, he notices my luggage tag bouncing on its short chain with every jolt of the shuttle. Bright red, this tag carries the Luther rose and the words “BECAUSE ALL LUTHERANS HAVE BAGGAGE.” Would I mind if he took a picture of it to show his Lutheran roommate?
Now, usually I’m not one for conversation on an airport shuttle. But when a nice young man hoists your monster suitcase to the top of the luggage rack without being asked, that makes for instant connection.
After taking his best shot of the bouncing tag, he asks what I’m doing in Chicago. I describe my sabbatical plans in the city’s western suburbs, for some coaching in storytelling from a couple of experts. He makes breezy reference to his travels as a photojournalist for a company in Washington, D.C. He seems at ease with his work. He is in Chicago on assignment. His voice and movements hint at his age—under 30, I judge. An under-30 photojournalist and an over-60 Lutheran pastor seem an unlikely pair. We have little in common beyond our Chicago destination and a heavy suitcase with a Lutheran luggage tag.
When the shuttle ride ends, he reaches up again to the top rack. He grasps hold of my suitcase and easily manages a take-down that would likely have taken me down. Gratefully, I thank him once more. He smiles.
Then I head toward the massive rental car complex, not looking back.
Once I reach the line at the rental counter, I scan the huge crowd inside the building. The rental car counters stretch for what rivals a Chicago city block. There is no sign of the young man, but I smile, remembering him.
After maybe five minutes in line, I hear a voice behind me—his.
“Did you lose a silver cross? The bus driver found this necklace on the floor, and I thought it might be yours.”
It’s not mine, and I say that to him as gently as I can, but only after considering for a second that if the cross were mine, I’d take it from his hands with relief and he’d walk away feeling affirmed and proud of his effort. I mean, who but a sweet guy with a heart for lost things and people who need an extra hand would track down a Lutheran pastor with an iconic luggage tag to return what he’d guessed was her lost silver cross?
Hearing the truth that it isn’t mine, he walks away slowly without a word, the cross in his grasp, its silver chain trailing. And that’s that.
I don’t think of him again until I lift my heavy suitcase from the trunk of the rental car and maneuver it awkwardly across the street of a suburban neighborhood. As the suitcase wheels fall into a pothole, they pick up loose gravel. I imagine the young man saying, “Here, let me get that,” before guiding the suitcase masterfully around the holes and ridges of the pavement, down the steps to the small basement apartment that is to be mine for one week.
Then questions flood my mind: How likely was it that in an airport rental car complex, where everybody is in a hurry to either get a car or work through the hassles of a long line, this young man would come looking for the pastor from the shuttle, with a lost silver cross in his hand? What led him to put off his own car pickup to look for me?
The weird thing is that inside the bus, though we did talk, we never once spoke of God or faith. And it could very easily have happened that when we arrived at the rental car complex and I thanked him again, we’d have headed to our different rental car counters and both felt satisfied— he because he had helped me; I because, thanks to him, I’d weathered an unexpected car rental detour without breaking a sweat.
Then I think back to the luggage tag with the Luther rose, and the picture he took for his Lutheran roommate: “BECAUSE ALL LUTHERANS HAVE BAGGAGE.” Maybe he had some baggage, too, that he never shared. Maybe everything that happened between us was about that, and about the silver cross on a chain that the bus driver had handed him.
I wonder why I didn’t say more in that moment. In those seconds when he held that slender chain up to me, smiled and asked, “Did you lose a silver cross?,” I could have gone beyond saying, “It’s not mine.” I could
have said, “Maybe you need it. Why don’t you keep it?” But now, looking back, I’m glad I didn’t. I walked away with someone to pray for and a story to tell. He walked away with a cross that said everything about what had been simmering between us. The Holy Spirit never needs a megaphone. The Holy Spirit travels light.
The Rev. Jennifer M. Ginn is a retired ELCA pastor who enjoys writing, coaching and serving as an interim pastor. She lives in North Carolina with her husband and two furry children, one a Jack Russell terrier and the
other a yellow cat with a temper.