Travel disruptions do not bring out the best in people.
Today I had over six hours to watch just such a thing play out in me and over one hundred fellow travelers.
Things break – including planes. When our flight was first delayed due to mechanical issues, I reminded myself that I’d rather not be in the air on a plane with problems. A new plane was being brought in and all would be well – a bit delayed, but well.
Then they announced the second plane had a maintenance issue as well and the flight was cancelled. 150 people had to be rerouted using three staff with two telephones.
It wasn’t pretty.
As things got more confusing and the hours passed with little progress, the tenor of the room changed, getting angrier and darker. People fought. Security was called. Guns and tasers were on prominent and aggressive display.
But there were also other things happening. Two travelers who patiently read most of the afternoon swapped the paperbacks they had just finished. They were strangers who made the most of the delay and found a way to be kind.
I watched one dad play with his kids for over three hours, tossing them high in the air and chasing them as they shrieked in delight. For them, this delay was a magical thing. It might even turn out to be their favorite memory from the whole trip.
Things break. Tempers snap. Moods shift. Nothing lasts.
Not the good or the bad.
Eventually flights were rebooked, vouchers distributed and weary, hungry travelers found rest. The beleaguered gate agents found (I hope) a very large cocktail.
As this trying day comes to a close, I am reminded that we only really ever have a single moment, and that moment is so very fleeting. A wonderful holiday morphs into a busy week of playing catchup. A toddler (or teenager) can go from cooing to caterwauling in mere seconds. The most meticulous plan is subject to spectacular failure.
Things break. Why we continue to be surprised by that must be some paradox of the human condition. But the more we can maintain our equilibrium in the midst of the drama, the better chance we have to be that dad swinging his giggling daughter high into the air, creating the kind of moment that can indeed last.