I was standing at the Robert Is Here farm and fruit stand in Florida City after a lovely visit to the Everglades National Park when I pulled my phone out of my purse and noticed I had a missed call. From a 1-800 number. And they left a voicemail. If you’re just three hours from boarding a plane, a voicemail from a 1-800 number is a pretty bad omen. Sure enough, an automated voice ever so casually told me that my flight home had been cancelled, but – hey, good news, traveler! – they had taken the liberty of re-booking me on a flight tomorrow morning.
My daughter would be waking up tomorrow morning, 1200 miles from here, and I had promised her I would be there when she woke up. I’m pretty serious about keeping my promises to her.
Five minutes before, I was picking out a banana and wondering how in the world one would even begin to make key lime honey and thinking about how odd it was that I was looking at palm trees while most everyone else I know was freezing their rears. Blame it on the low blood sugar or my tired brain, but after getting that voicemail I knew only one thing: a flight home tomorrow morning is unacceptable. I have to get home tonight. Only I didn’t have the foggiest idea where to start in somehow getting myself home on schedule.
I was in Miami for work, and a group of us had ventured out to the Everglades National Park after the meetings ended. There were gators and great blue herons and anhingas and the aforementioned fruit stand. But I was tired. This meeting had taken it out of me.
I sit on the Board of Directors of the Association of Real Estate License Law Officials (ARELLO). The Miami meeting was our annual Leadership Symposium, when we meet to talk about where we are, where we’re headed, what we need to do, etc. In the space of 48 hours, we go from big picture, vision-casting conversation to updates on the day-to-day workings of the organization and planning next steps for our projects. It’s a bit of a whirlwind, actually.
Back up to about 90 minutes before the ominous flight cancellation voicemail, when we’re in the Everglades. As we were walking along the water’s edge – you know, where the gators live – I was thinking about how badly I wanted to get home. How much I missed Olivia, and how weary I was. Then I realized: I’m in the Everglades. Seeing alligators. And not freezing my rear like everyone else back home. How about maybe I enjoy these last few moments in Florida instead of wishing my time away while I’m in this really neat place?
I resolved to do as much. And I think I did alright. Right up until that fruit stand voicemail.
All I could do was stand there, staring at my friends, trying to figure out what to do next. This is when it’s a good time to be traveling with regulators. Jeanne ordered everyone to the car. I called American Airlines. MiChell patted my arm and told me it was going to be okay. Kevin and Richard helped navigate our way back to the hotel. And Jeanne drove like a bat outta.
“This is what you’re going to do,” Jeanne said. “We’re going to the hotel. You’re going to fly upstairs and grab your bags. Then I’m taking you to the airport, and you’re going to talk to a ticket agent, and you’re going to cry, and they’re going to find a way to get you home tonight.”
If you’ve ever been to Miami and tried to get from any point A to any point B, you know that their traffic can be absolutely horrendous. We didn’t hit a stitch of it the whole way back to the hotel. I did as Jeanne said – flew upstairs, grabbed my bags, and we loaded up for the airport. I thought about the scene in Home Alone when Kevin’s mom is trading her first class tickets, money and jewelry for an elderly couple’s seat on the next flight home, and I took a mental inventory of anything I had on me just in case it might come to that. It was not an impressive list.
As soon as I saw the American Airlines ticket counter, my heart sank. The line was incredibly long and it was not moving quickly. I tried to tell myself that these people weren’t all other passengers trying to renegotiate cancelled flights, but that I’d just arrived at a peak check-in time. Then I heard two women talking to each other about their cancelled flights. Then a woman yelling at a ticket agent in Spanish. Then a woman just past her, sobbing at another ticket agent, mascara streaking down her face. And the rest of the people – the ones who didn’t look angry or frustrated – they just looked tired.
I didn’t want to be angry. I didn’t want to be frustrated. And I was tired, but I didn’t want to look it.
I had this crazy idea: what if, instead of standing here worrying about what’s going to happen when I get to the ticket counter and absorbing the frustration all around me, I made a gratitude list instead? After all, today had been pretty spectacular in some spots. So I got out my journal, right there in the ticket counter line, and I wrote, to name a few…
-Jeanne and MiChell hustling me to the airport
-no traffic all day
-grace that is greater
-karaoke in the Uber! JOURNEY! (you’d have had to be there…)
-“I ate shrimp pancreas for you.” (see above)
-all these people hopeful to get home or fly away
It was easy to be grateful in the Everglades surrounded by beautiful birds and mysterious reptiles and tall green grass swaying in the breeze. It’s not as easy to be grateful in the middle of a dingy, stale-air airport full of harassed and helpless travelers and even more harassed employees. But the thing I just keep finding about gratitude is that once you start thinking of gifts, it’s actually hard to stop. The list above isn’t all I wrote, and I absolutely could have written more.
Finally, it was my turn to talk to a ticket agent. Her name was Raquel, and she was kind. At first, she told me there simply weren’t any options. The problem was the weather in Chicago, and I would have to wait until tomorrow morning to leave. I started to walk away, then I stopped. I told her I had promised my daughter I would be home tonight. I had to get home tonight. Was there any way she could get me home tonight? She looked at me, thinking, and then she said, “Let me try one more thing.” That thing didn’t work, but it did lead us to a new solution: Memphis. She could put me on a nonstop flight to Memphis. And I could rent a car from there.
Four hours later, I was flying (read: obeying the speed limit) down I-40, headed to my daughter. Headed home. My NPR podcasts were keeping me awake, and – again – in a place where you just expect terrible traffic, there wasn’t a stitch of it. No wrecks, no construction backups. I pulled into the driveway at 11:00 pm last night, on the nose. Forty minutes sooner than I was scheduled to arrive at the Little Rock airport on my original flight home. I was tired, but I was grateful. The day had gone just as it was supposed to go, and it had really been beautiful.
But then this morning, I woke up and started thinking of everything I had to do – the unpacking, the grocery shopping, the facing of a house I was certain I’d left a bit of a mess – and I bid my serenity adieu. I’ve been cranky all day (I may or may not have been a total horse’s rear when I was dropping off the rental car in Little Rock over something that was not nearly as big a deal as I made it out to be), and earlier I found myself wondering: how did I go from yesterday and all that grace to today and all this barking?
I think it’s all in the lists we make. I wrote about this about a week ago, after reading what Ann Voskamp wrote about lists. Yesterday, I’d made gratitude lists. This morning, I’d made my to-do list. A tired, travel-worn, brain-fried me made an impossible to-do list, knew it was impossible, and attempted it anyway. And I was mad at everybody because of it.
When we are hard on ourselves, we are just that: hard.
Right now, I’m sitting on my bed, hair still wet from the shower, with clothes piled all about and dinner waiting to be made, and I’m putting that list down. I’ll get what’s necessary done tonight. There’s a weekend ahead of me to do the rest. And what’s necessary?
And maybe calling that rental car place and apologizing for being such an intolerable pill this morning…