On Friday, September 26, I set out to travel from New York City back home to Madison. I dutifully arose at 4:00 a.m. to meet a car service, arriving at the airport with plenty of time to spare. Boarding went smoothly and we left the gate. I looked forward to a 10:36 a.m. landing in my hometown after 3 days at a conference in Denver and a week with my family and friends. I had wonderful plans for Friday evening and Saturday.
Then the announcement came: There has been a fire in the Chicago air traffic control tower. All flights in and out of Chicago have been delayed.
The guy across the aisle from me began cursing and waving his fists around. I resolved to take the news better than he was taking it. After calling United twice and spending an hour on hold, I managed to get rebooked through Atlanta. But when I landed in Atlanta there were three voice mail messages advising me that my flight to Madison had been cancelled, and one informing me that I had been rebooked on a flight the next day through Washington D.C. I would, if all went as re-planned, arrive in Madison at 9:12 p.m. Saturday night.
The punch line is, I made it home. But there’s more. Throughout this adventure, I learned or was reminded of some valuable life lessons. Here are some of them:
- One person can truly make a difference.
That guy Brian Howard who set a fire in the Chicago air traffic control tower was one single man who managed to paralyze air travel across the country for two days. I’m guessing he also affected security measures at air traffic control towers throughout the world. Yet so many of us sit around thinking we can’t make a difference. What are the extreme positive acts you could take to change something you want to change?
- Surrender to what’s so.
When faced with the prospect of spending the night in Atlanta, I was not thrilled. But since all flights to Madison, Milwaukee, Chicago and pretty much all areas surrounding were cancelled, I decided the best plan was to surrender. I got on a line for customer service, hoping there might be a hotel voucher for me if Atlanta was my only overnight option. An hour later I was at the counter, having had some lovely conversations with other stranded travelers, and discovered that there were no more hotel vouchers remaining, and that my flight to D.C. was that very night. Suddenly I had a new reality before me, and I accepted that one too. It’s amazing how much my stress level went down when I dealt with what was so instead of wishing it were another way!
- It’s good to have friends everywhere.
Through a combination of college connections and my dance community, as well as other life adventures, I have built a network of friends and family in almost every major U.S. city (and some overseas cities as well). Drop me in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, Austin, Tucson or Tel Aviv, and I will have a friendly place to lay my head. When I discovered I would be in Washington, D.C. for a night, I started calling friends, one of whom, my college buddy Sara, was happy to put me up for the night. I had not seen her in about 10 years, so it was a great treat to spend unexpected time with her. Not only that, but she had kale in her fridge, a blender, and a free pass to her gym which we used to attend a class together Saturday morning. Saturday afternoon we swam together in an outdoor pool, well after any such pool in Madison would ever be open. I also saw a high school football game that was highlighted on Fox 5 Friday night! I was well taken care of. And I got on a deep level that I have led my life well to be able to call on so many people to help. Of course I would do the same for all of them.
- Talk to strangers.
In the customer support line and on various airplanes Friday and Saturday, I met some other waylaid travelers. It was good to connect with humanity. They put my situation in perspective, and helped me out by watching my bag while I went to plug in my phone, whose battery was on its last legs. One woman guided me where I needed to go in D.C. to get to the suburban Metro stop where I met my college friend Sara. I noticed I felt fairly upbeat given the monkey wrench that had been thrown into my life, and on one of my plane rides I identified why: I was talking to strangers!
In an article I read on the plane in Success (which is quickly becoming my favorite magazine), I discovered that a social science study by researcher and professor at Harvard Business School, Michael Norton, Ph.D., showed that “talking with strangers can be at least as important to our daily happiness as talking to our close friends and family.” Norton confirmed this to be true regardless of personality type. I know it is true for me! I always feel more energized when I connect with the people around me than when I retreat into my shell.
On Saturday night my flight departed from D.C. on time and landed in Madison 30 minutes early. My housesitter Mariah picked me up and drove me home, where I arrived fairly exhausted yet grateful. I slept well that night, knowing that I am well-loved, resourceful, connected, and able to handle the challenges that one suicidal maniac threw in my direction.