Friday, June 23, 2006
Flying Through Frustration, Inspiration, Realization
Well, I am in New York again, not that you knew I was gone. I was, however, in a city in middle America which shall remain nameless to protect the innocent. Namely, me. Although, one could argue to great effect that my innocence is disputable and perhaps altogether debatable, but that is not, after all, the point.
The point is that my getting there and my returning from there were such interesting, frustrating, terrifying, wonderful days, that the journey, itself, became the point.
It all began last week, the night before my departure, when I decided when to wake up for my flight. My flight was scheduled for 8:00 AM, so I woke up at 5:30 to allow time for zipping up my suitcase, putting on half my makeup (the other half was saved for the car ride), stopping at Dunkin Donuts for some much needed coffee, and the traffic-ridden drive to the airport itself. Oh, Laguardia, how often I merit to see you!
Due to an actual paucity of cars on the road, I arrived at Laguardia with more than an hour to spare. I was blessed, though, with much to do, since a gate change was announced over the loudspeaker. A change of gate that required the boarding of a bus and a little hop to another, unadjacent terminal. By the time we all filed into the new boarding area, the time was already past eight. Minutes ticked by, and after only a twenty minute delay, we were finally granted the privilege of boarding the miniscule plane. If it were any tinier, it would need no engine -only a propeller or two.
But we did not take off right away. No, after a little taxiing, the polite pilot announced that traffic control is delaying our flight at least two hours due to the turbulent weather in our destination city. Oy, vey, sitting on a plane for two hours? With only coffee in my tummy? At least, I consoled myself, I had an seat in a row all to myself, a good book, and the airline magazine perched in the pocket of the seat in front of me. And they allowed us free reign of the aircraft, which I made happy use of -exempting the cockpit, of course. One hour and some time later (my, how time does fly when you're reading a book and sipping diet coke with ice), the pilot announced that due to the severity and apparent longevity of the storm a few states away, our flight was canceled.
Oooookaaaaayy, I thought. But with nary a grumble, and even with a smile, I exited the aircraft and thanked the nice flight attendant and pilot. Somehow, I managed to be last in line to rebook my ticket, so I figured I wouldn't get on a flight that day, but I'd have to wait for the next. Which would be especially ironic, since my original flight plan was to leave the next day, but I made it for a day early to spend more time with my sister, whom I planned on visiting.
Baruch Hashem, I was able to catch a flight on another airline (Continental) at 1:00 PM -only a three hour wait. I meandered my way across Laguardia ('cause, of course, it was on the opposite end of the airport), buying a magazine, another book, and...drum-roll please...food!!! I miraculously found a little "health food" store called Cibo, which sells a lot of what's traif, and a little of what's kosher. I was good to go. At 12:50, I boarded my plane, which took about an hour or so to actually take off, so I landed at my destination about 6 hours later than I planned to. And my seat which would have been alone in it's own little row on my original flight was now squished next to a robust man with sharp elbows. But all's okay, really, because it was just another lesson in "Man plans, G-d laughs..."
But the story of my travel plans did not end with the first leg of my itinerary. No, just days later, after my visit ended, I found out my reservation had been canceled due to human error on somebody else's part, and an annoying phone call had to placed. I was put on hold, but the problem was eventually solved. But because my reservation had been cancelled, so had my seat choice. Now I was placed in a window seat. Oh, no, another close encounter with an uncaring seat neighbor, I thought. But all my worry was, I later saw, for naught...
Because when I got to the airport -with my mother and sister in tow, for they were returning to NY with me- we discovered our flight was delayed from 6:30 PM to 7:30. Then it was delayed to 8:00. Then 9:00. Suspecting another case of the ol' "delay, delay, cancel", I readied myself for a nice sprint to the ticket counter to be first in line to rebook our tickets. We brought with us five heavy pieces of luggage, and we wanted "out" that night. And then, as expected, a weary voice over the PA system announced the cancellation. I dashed to the counter and was rewarded with the second spot in line. (Hee hee.) It seemed that we'd have to take the next morning flight, because the next flight out was with Continental, and they weren't taking any more...oh, wait...yes...they were...okay, we were rebooked on the 10:15 PM flight outta there. So, American would reroute our baggage for us...uh...no, they wouldn't, because Continental wouldn't take it...so we'd have to go to baggage claim, get our baggage, bring it upstairs to ticketing, and re-check in at the Continental counter. Fun.
So we did, that, and I'll spare you the details, but let me just mention how the cart, piled high with baggage -oh, did I mention our dog which was traveling with us?- got stuck in the elevator, and almost tipped over, and the beeping, and the doors closing on me, my mother, our suitcases, and our shih tzu...uch. And I should mention my side trip back downstairs to the opposite side of the airport for no reason, because the Continental lady told me too, but really she just "didn't know what she was doing" (this according to the American lady, to whom I was sent to by the Continental lady). And when I slugged my way back to the Continental counter, my mother regaled me with a hilarious account of how she was hit on by a celebrity-type figure before all his autograph seekers and bodyguard. Sheesh, I thought, I miss all the fun! "Is this normal?" I asked my mother. "Is life really this insane?" My wise mother responds, "We don't notice when it's smooth. We only notice when it's not."
An hour or two and a gate change later, we were finally sitting in the airplane on the way back to New York. We were seated neatly in a row, my mother, my sister, the dog beneath the seat in front of us, and me. Wondering if the pilot's prophecy will come true, if it will, indeed, be a "bumpy flight" due to the weather, and wondering why he would freak us out about it in advance after all we'd been through to get on the tiny plane. Wondering, what if?...as I always do...and wondering why I always do...
I read a book and tried to quiet my turbulent mind, bent on the turbulent ride, heedful of the flashes of lightening outside. I read a book and took deep breaths, even as panic overrode my sensibilities and the floor and walls of the small airplane seemed to radiate blistering heat, and the shakes and dips of the aircraft underscored its fragility in the face of the unknown. I read a book and didn't stop wondering, what if...?
And then I remembered what my father, a"h, told me about turbulence so long ago. "It's nothing but potholes -a car driving over a rough road." And then I turned on the air conditioner, breathed, and looked out the window to my right. What I saw shocked me to the core. I saw darkness, but not nothing. I saw beautiful blackness, mountains of clouds and air, glistening pinpricks of delicate stars, streaks of indigo mist riding beside our flying machine. I saw the beauty of the night. The beauty of the sky.
I sat with my nose up against the glass, my eyes drinking in the sights with a hunger unequal to that which I felt due to the lack of kosher food in a small town airport. I couldn't get enough of the beauty that I saw. I observed the ever-changing landscape of just two media -mist and air- as we traveled above it, below it, through it, in it. A dark fairyland, not terrifying but enlightening, sparking into life a darkness of the soul that hid from light for so many years. Oh, G-d! I thought- how beautiful! How wonderful! How! How?! And then seeing the glow of the city below pushing it's way through the night, I knew it was Man, staking his claim in the partnership with G-d, proving once again that he is not passive but rather present, and always, blissfully active, full of hope and love, full of life. The stars above bore witness to the tears in my eyes that didn't fall, but rather gathered together and waited, and then decided not to flee from me and so returned to the depths. A tear almost fell from my eyes because of the beauty I saw, and I was proud of that. And I realized my fear had fled miles ago, the air was cool and the world at peace.
We landed, we arrived. But they journey goes on. And I learned that yes, "Man plans, G-d laughs", but laughs not at us, rather with us, as we laugh at ourselves. For we expect life to be smooth, and easy, and we notice not when it is glorious, and beautiful. Unless we do notice. And then, we can either cry, or we can laugh. Or both.
Posted by Lee at 6/23/2006 04:54:00 PM