Lessons from Being Stranded

2014 did not start as I had thought it would.

My family and I were in Orlando, FL on the first day of this year, which was a blessing considering there was a polar vortex waiting to swallow our home in Chicago.

We did the Disney thing. Characters were hugged, rides and attractions were experienced, made wishes upon stars. 

FlightsCancelledWe headed back to the airport to embark on our journey home - to the frozen tundra - only to find that the tundra was too frozen and therefore so were all flights into our fair home.

Stranded in Florida. Yes it could have been worse, even though they were experiencing record low peak temperatures of 43 during the day. Still, we were stuck.

I have this snapshot in my mind, all edged in white margins like an old school Polaroid, that had not completely developed until today. The snapshot is of a crowded airport gate, a long line at the airline counter, and the ensuing chaos that came when people were trying to figure out how to manage a few extra days away from home. Here are just a few reflections.

1. We are not in control - at least to the extent we think we are. 

My wife and I watched as people standing in line to rebook tickets frantically searched apps, called the 1-800 number for the airline, and even passed phones around once a customer service rep was engaged. In one sense, it was beautiful community - we're all in this together, helping each other get home.

Yet at the end of the day, some of us still had to settle for a flight into Milwaukee two days later and then drive home.

Our tech devices, travel savvy, and persuasiveness with ticket agents all fade in comparison to a good old fashioned collision between warm and cold air masses converging together in a brilliant tango of icy oppression. There are forces beyond us - stronger, more willful, and beyond the reach of even our best and brightest advances.

In 2014, the hope is that we'd learn to surrender some outcomes. We live in the present moment, we have less control of our collective futures than we might think, and therefore as our spirits deepen and grow in richness, the best case scenario for us is to become more resilient and less manipulative of a future that belongs not to us, but to the God who calls us to "number our days aright." (Ps. 90:12).

2. "Anything we do in anger we can do better without it."

That reflection is actually a quote from Dallas Willard, but it accurately named what happens in the aftermath of a flight cancellation. There was a sense that if anyone was going to get what they "needed" they had to get angry. They had to exercise this incredibly indignant spirit and "demand" a new flight, seat, etc. even if that meant dehumanizing the person who had randomly drawn the shift at the service desk that day.

We have become convinced that in order to get what we need in this world, we have to operate in anger.

We have to be angry to achieve justice.

We have to be angry to get good "customer service."

We have to be angry to discipline our kids.

We have to be angry to make change in our jobs.

Yet every year 25,000 people or so are murdered - how many of those are murdered as a result of a world trafficking in anger as a means of doing life?

I have to confess, I felt anger and irritation when the flight was cancelled. When I stood in line for an hour waiting to find out we weren't going home, when I listened to other people rage, when spatially unaware folks walked in front of us in line as if no one else was there. As Dallas Willard says, anger is like a headache. It's there for a reason and it has a purpose but it's not a place where you'd like to live. I admit I needed some Advil that day.

This year, we must begin to root out the life of being angry as a way of relating to the world.

We cannot keep the soul-maturing commandments of Jesus if we believe anger is a healthy means to our daily ends. We cannot love God with everything we have and our neighbor as ourselves if we feel like force is the lever best suited to handle the complexity of our post-Eden relationships and circumstances.

I'm glad to be home. Out of terminals, eating food that does not come from a box, but I am glad to have been stranded. It may have, in some ways, saved my 2014.