It all started with my refusal to cooperate.
I could have insisted. I had every right. Normally, I do assert this right. But there’s this journey I’ve been on lately, and it calls for a new way that looks a lot like surrender and peace. So when I was checking in for a flight last month and I had the option of changing my seat assignments, I refused. I wondered what might happen if I just went with the flow this time. What might I find in 6A or 23F or 42A? For starters, maybe I would find some freedom from my need to control my life – this thing I have been fighting to be free of for years now. This lie that tells me I can somehow manage my world and mitigate all risk, discomfort, pain or inconvenience.
The risk mitigation theory is a whopper of a lie, I tell you. There is not a single one of us that has that kind of power. Not one.
Yet we strive and we strain and we reach for the ever-elusive comfort of Controlling All The Things and we end up shattered and bewildered when life is still somehow itself: mysterious and unpredictable and complex. I have been alternately striving and shattered for years now. One might argue both sides of the chicken or the egg’s pre-emergence, but in my case (and I think perhaps in many cases), the shattering came first. We are born. Life is itself. We are shattered. As we pick up the pieces, we realize: hey, these are pieces. Maybe I should just try holding onto them myself. I bet I can fit them all back together in a way that might not break again. And so we puzzle over the pieces, trying this combination and that. Sometimes the picture is garish and difficult to look at; other times, we manage to piece together a semblance of what we began with – yet somehow, something always seems to be ever so slightly off. Something is always missing.
My Father has been showing me for months now – lovingly and relentlessly – just how much I have loved tinkering with the pieces all these years. And just how much has been missing.
There is a freedom in powerlessness that I have always considered such dangerous territory. It seems to be the place where all the bad things happen. I have been so busy avoiding this place that I could not see my own hands, bloody and scarred from years of clinging to the pieces of my life and forcing them into place. As I have seen this in the light of day, I have made small choices here and there to consciously relinquish control of my life, to birth a way of living free and unhindered, dangerous in peace and beautiful in rest. Small steps into what I know is a spacious place.
Letting the airlines tell me where to sit on September 19 was a small choice, but by 9:00 pm that evening, I was seated in 17F, somewhere high above the Pacific, fully at peace.
You may notice that 17F was not in the list of seats I referenced at the beginning of this post. That is a fun little story.
The wonderful thing about living in Little Rock is that you get to see so many airports anytime you need to go anywhere. Seriously. It’s amazing. Who knew you could connect to so many destinations only by going through Atlanta, but when it comes time to actually go to Atlanta, you have to be routed through Houston? The mystery of air travel is amazing and I will never understand it. As a lifelong Arkansan, I have come to expect multiple connecting flights in my travels, and I knew this trip would be no different, particularly because I was flying to an island in the middle of the Pacific. Little Rock to Houston to San Francisco to Honolulu. No big. I squinted just a tidge at the 45 minute layover in San Francisco when I made my reservations, but the ticket was so much cheaper I decided it was worth the risk.
We left Little Rock the morning of my trip and all was well – a quick, smooth jaunt up and down, landing in Houston. When I boarded the plane bound for San Fran, I realized not only did I have a window seat, but the middle seat was empty. Huzzah! How wise I had been in accepting the airline’s seat reservations for me! What good fortune to have extra space to stretch out during the four hour flight to California without worrying I might accidentally fall asleep on my seat mate’s shoulder! I smugly settled in for the four hour flight. Clearly my decision to deliberately release control over my life was being rewarded.
We were in the air for approximately five minutes when something felt off. I was warm and anxious and nauseous and my head felt a bit like it was trying to expand three sizes. I shrugged it off at first. I do tend to be a little on the sensitive side, after all. The flight attendant assured us the captain was aware of the temperature in the cabin and was working on it. Then my ears started popping, constantly and uncontrollably. I reached for chewing gum. The passenger next to me reached for chewing gum. A passenger in front of us held his head in his hands and asked why his ears were popping. It felt like the captain was climbing fast enough to break the sound barrier, and then it felt like the plane was suddenly losing altitude. Because it was. We were coming right back down.
The captain announced the automatic cabin altitude regulator had failed, and while they were able to manually control the altitude in the cabin, we were being diverted to Austin to have the plane checked out before we could continue on to San Francisco.
Did I mention I had a 45 minute layover in San Francisco? Yes. An Austin diversion – no matter how swift – meant I would miss my connecting flight.
I have done this dance often enough to know how impractical it is to expect a same-day arrival once you miss a connection. Add the necessity of crossing the Pacific to the mix and you can forget about it. I had so been looking forward to getting to the hotel and having a moment or two to myself before jumping into several days of meetings and events. Still, I had to admit the obvious: I had zero control over this situation. If I wanted to get to Honolulu at all, I would have to wait and see how the plan unfolded. So I released myself from the dizzying self-imposed obligation of searching all available flight routes and forming fifty contingency plans in my head. Instead, I simply waited.
Once in Austin, we were asked to de-plane in favor of a new, cabin pressure-regulated aircraft bound for San Francisco. I prepared myself for standing in an interminably long line at customer service only to be told I would need to stay overnight in Austin or San Francisco or some other random city before being booked on a connecting flight for the final leg (or legs) of my trip the following day. I decided that would be okay. If I could not control the outcome, what good would it do to fret over that outcome’s many possible iterations, including the least desirable?
As I got off the plane, I tried to focus on one thing at a time to keep my mind from rushing ahead. Step one: get off the plane. There were two passengers ahead of me – older passengers, with slower gaits. Normally I would have brushed past them in a very self-important hurry to find out when I was going to make it to Honolulu because obviously I was the only passenger inconvenienced here. This is where I hear my dear cousin Shawn, a flight attendant, saying: Andrea. Please don’t be one of those passengers. But since I was focusing on one thing at a time, and my current thing was getting off the plane, I slowed. I walked behind the passengers without wishing they would move faster. It calmed me. It helped me remember: I am not in control here, nor am I alone. None of these people planned on being in Austin today. Besides that, no matter how you sliced it, I was facing at least 9 hours of flight time and several more hours of waiting at various airports. Shaving an extra five seconds off my walk to the gate would not get me to Honolulu any faster; if anything, it may make me a little more miserable in the process.
I reached the gate area and it was time for step two: find someone who can help. I stopped at the ticket counter and said, “My flight was diverted from Houston. I won’t make my connection from San Francisco to Hono…” and before I could finish my sentence, the gate agent was asking for my baggage claim ticket. I handed it to him and he said, “Yes. You’re headed to Honolulu. We’ve rerouted you through LAX. One moment please while I have your luggage pulled off the Houston plane.”
I just stared at him in stunned silence.
If you have ever flown and missed a connection, take a moment and let this sink in. What usually takes hours – and considerable gnashing of teeth – to resolve was handled for me before I was even off the plane. As the gate agent, a very serene man named Clemenceau, radioed the ramp crew about my luggage, I noticed another agent was struggling with keying something into the system. Clemenceau leaned over to help her while he was on hold with the ramp crew. Another agent was standing nearby, guiding them through the arrangements they needed to make, snipping out questions and reminders here and there. Clemenceau just kept moving, staying calm as a cucumber.
A fellow passenger, this one London-bound, was asking for help with putting her Samsung on airplane mode. She was terribly worried about incurring network charges once she arrived in London, but her daughter had insisted she bring her phone. After striking out with the gate agents, she asked me for help. (I was glad because I had been itching to help her but did not want to be intrusive.) What a joy to be able to stand there and help this sweet woman with her phone instead of being so consumed by my own situation that I was oblivious to her need. It was such a lovely gift to really see the people around me.
Three hours later, I was headed to LAX for a brief layover before making the final jump to Hawaii. I was tired. My knees were sore and swollen. I had eaten the most random food, and by the time I got settled in Honolulu, I would be awake for close to 24 hours. And all of that was okay. I would get where I was going. I would do what I was there to do. Then I would come home. But in that precise moment, even from that spot 32,000 feet above the ocean, I already felt closer to that spacious place where my feet roam free, hands open to receive whatever may come my way. And I flat could not shake the feeling that my decision to roll with the seat assignment flow the night before had somehow paved the way for all that peace.
I suppose I should not be surprised that I now find myself on a different sort of diverted flight. My flight from Little Rock went to plan. We took off in Houston and everything seemed fine, until it wasn’t. And now? Well, now I’m not quite sure what to expect. But I do know this: I will get where I am going. I may not know how or when, and trying to figure all of that out is guaranteed to make me one very crazy person. So I focus on one thing at a time. I’ve had to deplane in Austin. The man at the ticket counter can tell me what to do next. Purse and backpack in hand, I make my way to the gate, intentionally slowing my pace to match the passengers ahead of me. After all, their plans just went woppy-jawed, too. Trying to rush past them in my self-important hurry will only scuff my soul. But if I can slow down and breathe and remember that I am not in control here? Well, maybe I can find myself in that spacious place again. And maybe I can even help one of them find that place while we wait. Anybody here headed for London? I can show you how to put a Samsung in airplane mode.