Sometimes the most important gifts are given unwittingly. I set about checking the instruments in preparation for my last flight of the day, a short hop from Atlanta to Macon, Ga. It was 7:30 P.M. Christmas Eve, but instead of forking into Mom's turkey dinner, I was busy getting other people home to their families.
Above the low buzz of talking passengers, I heard a rustle behind me. I looked over my shoulder. Just outside the cockpit doorway was a fresh-faced boy of about nine gazing intently at the flight deck. At my glance he started to turn away.
"Hold up," I called. "Come on in here." I had been about his age when I first saw a flight panel lit up like a Christmas tree and I could hardly wait to get my pilot's wings. But now that I was 24 and first officer at a commuter airline, I wondered if I'd made the right choice. Here I was spending my first Christmas Eve away from home, and what was I accomplishing? How was I making my mark in the world, let alone doing God's work, just hauling people from city to city?
The boy stepped cautiously into the cockpit. "My name's Chad," I said, sticking out my hand. With a shy smile he put his hand in mine. "I'm Sam." He turned to the empty seat beside me. "Is that for the captain?"
"It sure is and that's where Captain Jim sits." I patted the worn fabric. "Would you like to try it out?"
Sam blinked at me from under his ball cap. "I don't know . . . I mean . . . well, sure if it's okay." I lowered the seat so he could slide into it. The captain loved to give demonstrations of the plane's gadgets to kids, but what would he think about one sitting in his seat? Well, it's Christmas, I thought.