Katie Scarvey column: Staying grounded in Charlotte

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 11, 2006

On a Thanksgiving Day flight to join my family in Connecticut this
year, I found myself in a grounded plane in Charlotte, watching the
clock tick past the scheduled departure time. Ten minutes. Fifteen. An
hour. I realized that by the time we arrived in Philly I probably
wouldn’t make my connecting flight to Greenwich. I wasn’t even sure
there’d be another flight to Greenwich that day, in which case I’d have
to fly into JFK or LaGuardia — no fun for me or my husband who would
be picking me up.
Ten years ago, I might have been hyperventilating at such a turn of
events, but Thursday, the idea of spending the day in an airport seemed
like a minor irritation. My fellow travelers seemed to be handling the
delay equally well — except for one man who was ranting wildly,
dropping the F-bomb repeatedly in front everyone, including his own
children. Apparently, the delay was a malicious insult directed at him.
Ten years ago, I might have asked him to watch his language, tried to
make him see how irrationally he was behaving, how we were all in the
same boat, how he should simmer down. These days, my instincts tell me
to treat such a person like a crazy uncle. Ignore him, in other words.
If I had said anything, I might have taken a different approach than I
used to, pointing out that he was with family after all, that they all
appeared to be in good health, and that maybe, just maybe, he could be
thankful over airline pretzels instead of turkey. Or I could have told
him about the time four years ago when my daughter was being prepared
for a craniotomy at Duke she’d spent a week psyching herself up for.
Gowned and ready to be wheeled in for anesthesia, Quinn learned that
her surgery had to be bumped until the next week because of an
emergency. It was not a happy moment, but at the same time, we knew
that Quinn could be the one needing immediate attention, that in fact
we were lucky that waiting three or four days wouldn’t matter. She
handled it with the patience of a Buddhist monk. As we navigate life’s
unpredictable waters, most of us learn patience. We learn that control
is an illusion. We learn to expect plans to go awry. That way, we can
be happy when things go smoothly, rather than outraged when they don’t.
Developing patience also means we can be open to good things happening
in the meantime, instead of stewing in our disappointment. This summer,
after another one of Quinn’s surgeries was delayed by a power outage,
we had a supremely memorable evening, full of family stories and New
York pizza. It was an unexpected gift.
If my flight hadn’t been delayed last week, I wouldn’t have met
Nehemiah, a baggage handler. We talked about linguistics, Martin
Luther, synchronicity, his painful divorce and how it had brought him
back to church. Meeting Nehemiah was also an unexpected gift. If my
flight hadn’t been delayed, I wouldn’t have had the chance to eat at
the airport food court, which means I wouldn’t have observed the couple
sitting next to me.
The woman, about my age, was with her father, who appeared to have
Alzheimer’s. She was patiently trying to get him to swallow some pills.
He seemed confused. “Dad, you take these every day,” she said. In her
voice, I heard endurance, love, a hint of sadness. As I ate my stale $9
sandwich, I felt grateful that I haven’t faced this particular trial,
as many of my friends have. I filed away the memory of this woman’s
sweet attentiveness to her father, who is probably a shadow of the man
she grew up with. I’ve come a long way, but I still have a lot to
learn. ***
Contact Katie Scarvey at 704-797-4270 or kscarvey@salisburypost.com.