Talking on the Plane

When the seatbelt light was turned off, I unbuckled and asked the fellow beside me if I could trouble him to get up. He was gracious, of course, but he asked if I would mind if he looked at my book while I was gone. No one has ever asked that before. 

I had noted that he had a Hebrew Bible and had been reading it. When I returned, he thanked me. The book was Walker Percy’s novel, The Moviegoer; he told me of a college trip (some decades ago) when he almost got up the courage to visit Percy. He didn’t know the novel; I told him that Percy, a southern Catholic writer, had appreciative insights about the role of Jews in the South. For instance, Percy takes their survival through millennia as a sign from God. One of his characters (in another novel) marvels over this survival and cries (naming ancient enemies of the Jews), “Where are the Hittites?”

He then surprised me by citing recent archeological discoveries about the Assyrians. He then touched my heart by saying he had been taking care of his late father’s library. I learned his father had been a military chaplain. The care with which he was treating his father’s books seemed pious and fitting. He took many of them to the synagogue. “You know synagogues have vaults for burying books?” he asked me. “I was taking them so many, they finally said, No more!” He had found fitting homes for many of the significant volumes. He treasured for himself his father’s sermons.

I had told him I was a Christian theologian. He told me he was a neurologist. We talked about that field—I said that when my wife’s brain tumor was found, I had thought, and I still think, that were I to have another life I would love for it to be in neurology. We both lamented the natural tendency for doctors to focus on that one body part in which they are expert. He resists that as much as he can. I told him about Susan’s neurologist in New York City—it turned out that he had studied under him. We shared our admiration.


I often fly with hardly a word to the people around me. This reticence, perhaps, keeps me from seeing divine gifts. I’m glad he asked to look at my book.


Out & About. The Good Books & Good Talk seminar this Sunday, January 15, will discuss the aforementioned Moviegoer by Walker Percy. Anyone who reads the book is welcome to participate in the conversation, which is from 5 to 6:30 pm at Incarnation in Dallas. We meet on the 2nd floor of the education building.

I teach a five-session course on Christian Ethics, which will meet monthly through May, in each month on the third Saturday. The first class is January 21, from 9 a.m. to noon. If you are interested, contact Erica Lasenyik: .

The Rev. Canon Victor Lee Austin. Ph.D., is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Friendship: The Heart of Being Human" and "A Post-Covid Catechesis.: