I WAS SITTING in the international departure lounge at an airport on the East Coast, not long before take-off. Suddenly, I thought I heard my name being called over the public address system. Sure enough, when I got to the information desk I learned there was a note for me at the counter of the airline on which I was due to fly.
My surprise turned to concern when I got there. The jumbled message came from Amsterdam, to where I was returning. My four kids and their mom were safe in our apartment there, I was told. Don’t worry about the plane crash. Huh?
Eventually managing to place a call home to Holland, the picture became a bit clearer. An El Al plane had crashed on taking off from Schiphol Airport, not far from where we lived. It had gone down in our district, taking out part of an apartment block about a mile away. An untold number of people had died.
Although they had heard the doomed plane pass overhead, my kids and their mom were safe. They wanted me to know in case I had been worried. Relieved to hear that my loved ones were okay, I hung up and went looking for more news. However, there was nothing on the airport televisions: this was pre-internet-and-cell-phone days when world headlines turned more slowly.
Returning to my seat at the gate as the crew prepared for boarding, I looked around at my fellow passengers. Families and couples. Businessmen and women and tourists. Old people and kids. Chatting and smiling, dozing and reading.
I wondered how many of them didn’t yet know what I did. Were there people traveling who had no idea that their world had forever changed?
Against both professional training (scoop!) and personal bent (Have you heard…?) I decided to keep quiet. Telling fellow passengers what I knew as we chatted might be a conversational gambit, but would it be helpful?
What if someone actually knew people who lived in that area? Would it be caring to leave them literally in mid-air about their situation, stuck for the remainder of the flight with anguish and unanswered questions?
Sometimes silence is a kindness. There is an art to the timing of telling that can get lost in the era of Twitter. We don’t need to blurt everything out right away. As Proverbs 17:27 says, “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge.”
Photo credit: Brian Tomlinson via Foter.com/CC BY