When I got sick, the dog got sick as well and the car had to go in the shop. All this was happening the day before we were scheduled to leave for Seattle. I began to wonder if the rare Thanksgiving trip we’d planned was actually meant to be. Before my head hit the pillow I double checked my alarm that was armed to go off in a few hours. I was simultaneously relieved and exhausted. It would all be worth it for the boys to visit with family we don’t see often enough.
Heading out before the sun was up, we were unusually organized. My anxiety was receding. Bundled up against the cold we scurried across the tarmac by moonlight to board the plane. It felt like we were sneaking off to an exotic destination. When the boys were little and we’d travel, we would pretend we were secret agents on a mission. Starting our day with such a fond memory had all of us in smiles.
The plane was warm and toasty as we hunkered down. The doors closed, electronic devices were turned-off, and the plane pulled away from the terminal. The captain welcomed us with the confidence you want from a pilot. Sight unseen, I pictured him being very handsome. Aren’t all pilots good-looking? All was well for this mission—or so I thought—until the debonair captain came back on the air.
I was so cozy in my seat it startled me. At first I imagined he said, “Houston this is flight, we have a problem,” but when I came to what I heard was, “The plane seems to be fine. We don’t think we have an issue but the indicator light says we do. Because safety is our first priority we’re going to make other arrangements for you. We’ll taxi back and have you talk to a gate agent.” Oh no, not a gate agent! They’re always grim looking this time of year.
I swear the plane’s wheels buckled under the heavy sigh of all 52 passengers. From my seat in the back I began assessing this was not good. Since none of us are actually secret agents, a jet wouldn’t be following behind to scoop us up. The reality of travel to and from our small town is that it has limitations. With only a handful of flights daily a stage coach could get you over the mountains faster.
The weariness from the day before returned. Dutifully, we queued up to make other arrangements with hopes of same day travel fading fast. What ensued from that point on was a comedy of errors on the part of agents and baggage handlers. Four plans, four turns in line, and two hours later my patience had taxied off the runway. I wanted to eat the words I’d muttered de-boarding, “Be nice, be gracious, and be calm.” I turned to summon my secret agents and flee the airport. No more I thought, obviously this trip wasn’t meant to be.
Before I aborted, a man stepped behind me with a package that changed my bad attitude. At first I thought I was reading more into the situation than I should. When the guy gave me a look that said no you’re not, I was completely embarrassed by my frustration. While I was worrying about not making it to Seattle, a transplant team and patient were nervously waiting for a priceless gift. At the same time, another family was mourning the loss of someone from their Thanksgiving table. The box screamed, “Your worries are nothing lady – get over it!”
My frustrations unraveled faster than the line. By the time I got to the counter I’d found the necessary gratitude. Calmly, I answered the gate agent’s questions and plan number five took shape. It wouldn’t be easy but it would get us to Seattle. Watching the box marked fragile, reverently escorted through security, I refused to complain about the flipside of our plan which was fraught with “what-ifs.” A bigger picture perspective was necessary.
Twenty minutes later, in a sprint worthy of a Hertz commercial, we were through security and boarding another plane. Out of breath, I stopped to make sure I had the boys with me. To my relief, they were. My heart rate slowed as I stowed our carry-on bags. While Chase buckled up he said, “Mom you missed something.” Before my heart could sink, he held out a dime. “I guess you were running too fast to see it.”
I sat down and thought I was moving too fast just like everyone is this time of year. The hustle of getting where you want to be keeps you from experiencing what you’re supposed to along the way. If something goes wrong, your attention shifts from why you’re making the effort, to what you aren’t accomplishing. You no longer have eyes to see what lies right in front of you, which is life. A gift that is precious and worth going the extra mile to celebrate with people you love – even if doing so at the holidays is complicated.
We don’t like complicated and in some situations it takes more than traveling physically to be with your family. There’s an emotional divide you have to cross that feels like a security checkpoint. You have to let go of all your baggage. It feels like a violation of your self-righteous space. Other times it takes negotiating just to make a plan. You don’t get to be the only one charge like you would prefer. This requires having nerves of steel like an air traffic controller.
For some, it isn’t do-able. But when it is, you’ve got to try. Like that box and Chase’s find reminded me, life can change on a dime. It’s short. It’s fragile and sometimes you have to weather the challenges to get where you need to be. You will be glad you did.