Sunday, April 26, 2009

I arrive at 3pm? No wait midnight? No wait 2:30am?

So after I finished talking with Brian, I went and checked in with the airline. My flight was scheduled to depart on time, and I was there in plenty of time. I sat down in a chair facing the airline's boarding desk, and whipped out my book.

The book I was working on is called "Heart of a Father." This book is a collection of essays from men who either have children with a congenital heart defect, have a heart defect themselves, are married to someone with a congenital heart defect, or are the grandparents of a child with a congenital heart defect. Some of these fathers have children who are babies, some have children who are grown, some fathers' children have died, and some are living with all the implications of having a heart defect themselves.

I became absorbed in the book. The writing is terrific. I cried my eyes out for the men in these essays. The stories of love, loss and support are amazing. They write about how the decisions that they make affect their relationships with their children, how their marriages endure or fail, and how they cope with the stress of needing to work versus their desire to be by the bedsides of their loved ones.

The more I read, the more connected I became with these men. I was devastated after reading the essay of one dad who held his baby as he died in his arms. One dad wrote a series of love letters to his daughter who died at the age of five. Another dad wrote a poem about losing his son.

As I stopped to wipe my eyes, I looked up and noticed that the flight information at the gate had changed. I jumped up and ran to the Continental Airlines desk. "What happened to the flight to Newark?" I demanded. "Where is it?"

"Are you Mrs. Turner? Didn't you hear us? We called for you overhead." The gate attendants looked incredulous.

"No! No I most certainly did NOT hear you call for me! I was sitting right there!" I pointed to the seat in front of the gate.

"We did call for you several times Mrs. Turner, I'm sorry," the attendants looked apologetic.

I instantly burst into tears. "You don't understand. I haven't had a vacation in several years. I haven't been away from my three young children in more than 9.5 YEARS!" I felt hopeless. My ship was sunk before it left port. My chance to kick back, relax and gain a new perspective...gone. What was I going to do? And how was I going to explain this stupid mistake to Steve? Steve had graciously agreed, without argument, to allow me to take this solo trip, and I had spent money that we could not afford to waste. Now that the money was spent, I would STILL not get the rest I was looking for and it was all my fault. How could I miss the flight? Why hadn't I heard them calling me?

"Hold on Mrs. Turner, we are looking to see if we can help you now," the gate attendants looked sympathetic. They said, "We know what you are going through, believe me. We understand the need for a vacation. Hold on." There were two of them. The one with the long dark hair was biting her lower lip and working busily at a terminal, checking flights.

I anxiously awaited their response. Shifting from foot to foot I tried to be patient. I tried to let them work their magic without my interjections. Finally, the woman with the shorter,curlier dark hair and pretty eyes smiled, "We found you a flight to Columbus,OH where you can connect with a flight to Dallas." Oh yay! I was so relieved. To still be able to go on my little adventure. To have a shot at relaxation. The possibility of a fresh new perspective returning to me.

"Oh thank you so much!" I gushed. "I really appreciate your help."

"Do you want a window seat or an aisle?" the woman with the long hair asked.

"I don't care, really. I am just so happy that you could help me at all, I'll take anything," I was feeling buoyant again.

So I was back on track. I was on my way to see my sister. I would be a little later, but I would still get there. I sent a text message to my sister, letting her know that I missed my flight and that I would be arriving a bit later than originally planned. After texting her my flight information I decided to call her anyway, to be sure she knew the score.

When I got Cathy on the phone she asked me, "Do you like Jimmy Buffett?" Are you kidding me? LIKE Jimmy Buffett? I LOVE Jimmy Buffett. Absolutely LOVE him. "Well, Jay got us tickets to go tomorrow night," Cathy informed me. "I'm on my way to go get them right now," she said.

I didn't care how I got there, I decided. If I had to walk there, I would make it in time for Jimmy tomorrow night I told myself mentally. I would not miss the Parrothead scene for all the cheeseburgers in paradise.

This trip was looking up for me. Okay, so I missed my initial flight. I managed to get on another without it costing me anything extra, and it looked like the trip was shaping up to be extra fun. I have always wanted to go to a Jimmy Buffett concert. The cult following he has is legendary. The crowds that tend to follow Jimmy just want to have a good time. Most of them have clearly visited Margaritaville a time or two before coming to the concert. Many are aging Yuppies. But all just want to have a good time without wanting to hurt anybody. I doubt if any of them have visited a mosh pit, but I could be wrong. Jimmy's good time vibe is just what I needed.

My flight to Dallas from Columbus was cancelled due to weather. Apparently there were hail storms moving through the midwest and the airport in Dallas was diverting aircraft because of them. I was quickly rescheduled on a flight to Houston. I thought to myself, "I wonder if Cathy would be up for a road trip to pick me up in Houston?" I hoped that would not become necessary, but didn't know what I should do if I couldn't get a flight out of Columbus to Dallas. I remembered that Houston was a big city. The last time I was there to visit my brother we drove two hours and were still in Houston. Boy I hoped I didn't get stuck in either Columbus or Houston.

The gate was changed. There were some complications due to weather issues, so the overhead announcement was that there was a gate change for my flight from Columbus to Houston. I grabbed my bags (boy was I glad I only had two carryons and no checked baggage), and headed for the gate.

When I got to the gate that was announced on the overhead it did not list Houston as the destination. Monterrey was listed. I approached the desk and was informed that yes, this was the correct gate, they were just waiting for the plane to arrive from Atlanta. Feeling nervous and worried since I had already missed a flight, I uneasily sat down in a chair at the gate. Reflecting on how easy it would be to miss an announcement overhead (it could be very hard to understand what was being said sometimes), I spied a group of flight attendants. I approached them and asked if they were going to be on my flight. When I was informed that yes, they were the flight attendants for my flight, I decided right then and there that I would follow them. Since my plane could not leave without this group of flight attendants, I would stick to them like glue.

One of the flight attendants seemed to have a direct line to the flight tower. She got frequent updates on what was going on and when we were expected to be able to board the plane. She also got an advance warning of a gate change, so it was a rather simple thing to follow the group of the attendants to the new gate. I felt assured that I would be boarding the correct flight if we didn't get cancelled due to the weather.

Finally we were called to board the plane. I quickly texted my sister that I was indeed boarding and got in line. I listened closely and made my way into the plane and found my window seat as soon as I was able to. I buckled my seatbelt, pulled out my book, and waited for the plane to take off. And waited. And waited. After about an hour, the pilot informed us that he was sorry, but for some reason the crew did not have a flight plan in with the paperwork and that they could not take off until they found the flight plan. We would have to wait at the gate until the flight plan was found. If we so desired, we could get off the plane and stretch our legs while they searched for the paper work that they needed.

Nothing doing! There was no way I was leaving the plane, I informed my young seatmate, a high school aged soccer player. I settled down to read, reasoning that if the crew wanted the plane cleared, they would inform me. Soon enough, the pilot was back on the overhead informing us that a flight plan had been located, they were very sorry for the delay, and we would be taking off momentarily.

The in flight movie, which they gave to us free of charge to make up for the delay, was Marley & Me. The ads for this movie make it seem as if the movie is a comedy about the foibles of raising a dog with bad habits. He is lovingly called, "The worst dog ever!" throughout the movie. But the movie is really about the life of a family. The struggle to balance personal satisfaction and happiness with the needs of a young family figure into the story line quite prominently. It struck me as a movie that couples should watch together and discuss. It was very provocative. It was emotional. It was poignant. And least as far as my life is concerned.

Eventually I did arrive in Dallas. It was 2:30am. I was tired and sore. But I was there. My sister was there, looking relieved and tired. We hugged briefly. She joked around with me about how everyone who goes to visit her misses their flight or has some kind of problem. She took me to a breakfast place that was open all night. We had lattes and banana nut pancakes. It was yummy. Then we went to bed, not to arise until 1pm that afternoon.

On the drive to her place, my sister remarked that I was remarkably calm for the kind of day I had just had. I made the comment to her that after I knew I could still get to Dallas, the rest of it was just fine. I could live with more connections, later arrivals and such, just so long as I knew all would be right in the end.

My five things:

1.) I am grateful for those at Continental Airlines that were willing to help me
2.) I am grateful for Jimmy Buffett
3.) I am grateful for my sister Cathy, who is the queen of hospitality
4.) I am grateful for Jay, my brother-in-law who assisted with my weekend of relaxation
5.) I am grateful for the ability to develop and exercise patience. Good things really DO come to those who wait.

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