If you ever think you're in control of your life, enjoy the moment and then forget it. You're not. My trip to Dayton last Sunday was a thirteen hour experience. I was so relieved when we boarded AirTran flight 705 to Atlanta on time, around 2:15 PM this afternoon. Just as all passengers were settled, the captain addressed us with the announcement that we'd been delayed for at least an hour and a half because of weather in Atlanta. As I walked past the captain on the way out of the plane I asked, "We should be back at the gate by 3:45? "Yes," he told me. So I went for coffee and waited. The sign with the departures did not even list my flight. (I happened to take that photo at 3:15 just for an illustration). At 3:40 I arrived at my gate only to discover that the gate was closed and the plane had left. Without me.
Back to AirTran's desk with my story and to get some help. They put me on a flight that leaves at 8:28 tonight, but that is already delayed until 9:52, arriving in Atlanta at 11:27. The last flight from Atlanta to Houston tonight is a 10:50 flight already delayed until 11:39. Not enough time for me to make the connection. Unless the 8:28 delayed until 9:52 leaves early like the 2:15 delayed until 3:45 did. If the 8:28 delayed until 9:52 leaves by 9:30, I can probably make the 10:50 delayed until 11:39 connection and be in Houston by 12:39. If the 8:28 delayed until 9:52 leaves later than 9:30, then I'll need to get a hotel room in Dayton and catch a 5:45 AM flight tomorrow and be back in Houston by around 10. Otherwise I'll spend the night on the floor of the Atlanta airport. Wherever I spend the night it will be without my suitcase, a change of clothes, or anything other than what is in my laptop briefcase. So much for control. I feel like Tom Hanks in The Terminal. This is not how I would plan my itinerary. Seems like a lot of wasted time, inconvenience, and hassle.
I must say that if you have to be stuck in an airport for hours, the Dayton Airport is a good place to be. They have two very nice Business Centers with overstuffed chairs, good brewed coffee (Ethiopian today), a free wireless connection, and a plasma TV screen on the wall with CNN. I learned this when I flew home from Dayton in January and weather not only delayed my flight to Atlanta, it rerouted it through Cincinnati.
So I'm sitting here blogging, sipping coffee, and listening to Amy Grant. Just before boarding the flight I later missed I was reading a chapter in The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh (pronounced Tick-Naught-Han), a Vietnamese Buddhist monk. "Mindfulness" is that state of awareness in which you are keenly aware of what you are about and who you are in the present moment. As you know, we live out many of our moments by being present in the future in the form of worrying or fretting. We are seldom really "here" and "now." The concept is expressed in the proverb: "When you walk, walk. When you sit, sit."
I read a book several years ago called Art of Pastoring in which William Martin taught me that only two questions are really important: Where are you? and What time is it? The only correct answer to the first question is "I am here." And the only correct answer to the second is, "It is now." We live, Martin said, as if there were a more important time than now and a more important place than here. Pastors have a bad habit of not being present with the people they are talking to, always looking over the other's shoulder for who else might be passing by, or glancing at their watch as is they have something more significant to be doing.
In recovery groups we used to talk about the importance of "being in the moment," or "living in the present." Jesus seemed to have that down. He was where he was with whom he was with. I am certain I live much of my life as if it were more important to be somewhere else, with someone else, doing something else. I often find it difficult just to be present, mindful, conscious of where I am, and, in Christ, letting that be enough.
AirTran may not have been able to fully predict the weather today or last Sunday or last January. They made their plans, but they do not control the environment. I made mine and they are dashed again. So here I sit in Dayton Airport. I want to be on my way home. But I am here.
What are my choices? I can decide to be frustrated with the airline or angry with myself or as disturbed as the weather in Atlanta. Or I can choose to be present. I can choose to be mindful, to reflect, to let this be enough. That's a little easier to do with a relatively few hours in a city distant from home. I find it more difficult to do with life in general. I want to be different. I want to do better. I want to be further along. I want to control the world and people around me. And when that is what I want, I find myself frustrated because, like the weather, there is little I can do about where I am at this particular moment in my life. I can choose where I go next. I can make plans. But for now, this moment, I can be present.
Homeward Bound, but OK in Dayton,