Folks, I’m a bit in survival mode here at the moment. I’ve been without a car all week. We have an uncharacteristically grumpy, teething baby. We have a feverish two year old who only wants Mama… all the time. We have a Daddy who is leaving on Sunday for a week. And we have two very tired parents, because what we don’t have is nearly enough sleep.
Yesterday, however, I decided that when people here ask me how I am, I’m going to try to avoid giving them the shell-shocked stare of someone under siege and then launching straight into a disjointed account of my biggest problem of the moment. That goes for this blog, too. So this month I’m not going to write a post exploring how to cope with epic toddler tantrums (although if you’d like to see me write on that at some stage, let me know). Instead, I’m going to post something more light-hearted that I wrote four years ago. It’s about grace that I experienced in – of all places – an airport.
Until this morning I had thought that perhaps my capacity to invent new and stupid things to do in airports had finally been exhausted. After all, it’s been almost two years since I’ve done something dumb on an epic scale.
Given my track record, two years is a pretty long time to go without a major self-inflicted airport disaster. In two years I have not left my wallet at home and gone to Colorado without any money or credit cards. I have not neglected to get a visa for Czech Republic and been stranded in Germany. I have not sat, content, at the wrong gate in Chicago airport until a mere twenty-seven minutes before my flight to London left from an entirely different terminal. I have not shown up at the airport for a flight to Washington only to be informed that I was supposed to be on that flight all right, just a week earlier. I have not misread a flight itinerary for a trip to Ghana as leaving on Tuesday, not to realize until Monday at 9am that it actually left on Monday at 4pm. I have not lost my bank card and then had to hastily borrow a thousand dollars in cash from church friends before a Sunday departure for two weeks in Kenya. I have not illegally entered home country number one as a tourist on the passport of home country number two after realizing, on the day of departure, the implications of the fact that my passport for home country number one had expired.
And, in a particular triumph, I have not been rude to any incompetent immigration officials, in any country.
In other words, I’ve been good these past two years. Really, really, good.
So good, I thought that maybe these days of tragi-comedy airport disasters were over. I truly hoped so. Because, contrary to what some of my nearest and dearest may believe, I don’t do these sorts of things on purpose. These sorts of situations are in no way fun while they’re unfolding. They make my palms sweat, my heart race, and my general stress levels spike (which, given that most of them have occurred during my travels as a stress management trainer, is a particularly aggravating irony). They are a serious assault on my image of myself as smart, competent, organized, and independent.
I am not quite sure why, but a disproportionate number of these incidents seem to involve airports. And so it was this morning.
This morning I got to Grand Rapids airport in Michigan an absurdly safe two hours early for my domestic flight. I spotted my gate number – B1, found a nice chair in the sun, rejoiced over the free wireless, and paid no attention to the surrounding chaos until I heard the words “final boarding opportunity” and “Chicago” right after one another.
I slammed the laptop shut and jumped up, wondering how it had gotten so late, only to turn around and see that between me and gate B1 stood… security screening.
Security screening, which I had completely forgotten I had not yet passed through. Which, in fact, I had completely forgotten even existed.
And there was a very long line of people stretching away from it down the terminal, past where I stood.
So I want to say a very sincere thank you to the woman at the head of the line who let me go in front of her when I showed up panicked and begging. And to the half a dozen people behind her who came to my defense and said it was alright for me to totally disregard my rightful duty to the line, “they didn’t mind at all”, when the security people accosted me with a belligerant “ma’am” and demanded to know if I had waited my turn.
Not only were these people in line kind, they were nice about it too. They smiled at me, which I totally did not deserve.
It was, in a pure form, grace.
Hours later it all still leaves me drenched in shame and shaky gratitude and determined to treat gently those who cross my path very flustered after just having done something unbelievably silly. Perhaps even to treat gently those who are doing something unbelievably silly but aren’t the least bit flustered or regretful.
And to smile at them.
Have you experienced grace from strangers lately? Do share the tale…