I once worked for a Professor who said that when he died and found himself before St Peter at the pearly gates he was going to ask for all the time back that he had wasted waiting in airports for delayed planes. I doubted that he would realise his wish, not because St Peter would look unfavourably on his request, but because I never thought he would get a chance to ask, having been whisked after death in an entirely different direction.
Hell for him and for many would be an eternal waiting room, with flickering screens telling you that your flight was delayed, then further delayed. It would never actually be cancelled, but you would be on an eternal fool’s errand waiting for the flight that you desperately needed to catch, but which would never come.
I am writing these words because I currently find myself in this very state of perdition. A simple commuter flight from Glasgow to Belfast, a flight that takes only half an hour, is delayed by two. As a life-long anxious traveller I inevitably arrive at the airport, or the bus station, or even the dentist’s waiting room excessively early. Today is no different, and to find a two hour delay merely adds insult to the temporal injury already imposed by my anxiety.
What to do? Where to sit? To eat? To drink? To blog? Perchance to dream? These are the questions I face and which everyone in my situation weighs up. I am fortunate to be in an airport that still seems to be open – I have been in several that have effectively closed as soon as the delayed sign went on the Departures screen. There are places to eat, to drink and to listen to throbbing electronic music. In fact, everywhere I have tried to sit or eat or drink is well served by the music. A little too well served in my opinion, as my ears are just beginning to bleed. There is even piped music of the same variety in the toilets – can’t even have a seat in there in peace.
There are shops which offer some respite. ‘Home and body cosmetics’ one shopfront declares. Whatever it is that they sell, it’s ‘up to 50% off’. I will investigate and doubtless discover how my home needs half-price cosmetics. Next door is the duty free. How is it that when you are flying from one part of the UK to another you can engage in the subterfuge of duty free? I am sure there is a perfectly good and reasonable explanation, but it escapes me. Next up is a green sign showing a small running man, denoting the emergency exit. Please.
(The music has just changed to drums. No better. Slightly worse.)
What can I learn from this experience and more importantly from my reaction to it? I am supposed to be able to write about discovery, so perhaps I should turn the energy I am using to fuel my frustration and pique and my search for ever more exotic combinations of swear words, into a search for something more valuable.
Experience is the river we all find ourselves waist-deep in from a very early age. Its flow is never constant and its undercurrents unpredictable. All I am experiencing is a temporary stagnation in my river when I had been expecting white-water rafting. I was poised: now I find myself paused. That clash of expectation and reality is, as always, a little jarring. No matter how often we experience it, we can still be surprised. And, that in itself is surprising, isn’t it? Why have I not developed a better strategy to deal with this by now? Why do I still have a swearing fit when I see ‘Delayed to 21:45’ on my 19:45 flight? Where is my stoicism; where is my maturity?
I am supposed to be on a plane going somewhere. Instead I am sitting waiting to find out if I am ever going anywhere tonight. I’m annoyed, angry, frustrated, bored, anxious and anything but relaxed. But, I’m also breathing, able to think, and I am not in any real pain – apart from the existential kind you always get in airports. On balance, and balance is a difficult thing to achieve just now, but on balance, I’m really OK. Better than OK actually. All my vital organs are working, more or less, I have most of my teeth, and I can write. As I write I speak to myself, hoping the drivel will turn into something profound. That some nugget of wisdom will form from the tangle of words on the page. High hopes? Yes, but laudable ones.
So, what has this self-reflection yielded? That I am a little less than I hope to be, but that there is hope for me, nonetheless. Perspective, context, circumstances – all a bit abstract, but essential to understand anything and place it in its rightful box. Two hours delay in the big picture, the grand plan, is one twelfth of one day, of one of the 25-30,000 days I might hope to spend on this earth. Or, in other words, not very much. And, has it evaporated and been taken from me by the thief of time? No, I get to spend this 0.001% of my life simply doing something different to that which I planned. In my case, I get to spend it thinking and writing.
I am always bemoaning the fact that I never have enough time to think or write. Well, here I am with a gift in my lap. And, my view of it will depend on nothing more than my attitude – grumpy or grateful. If I choose grateful, I suddenly feel a little less hypertensive.
How we view those river currents in which we find ourselves and how we choose to deal with them is what makes all the difference to a life of optimism and wonder from one of despair and self-pity. Choose to see the rapids as excitement, and the rocks in your path as challenges rather than obstacles placed there by a malevolent god. Choose to regard the pools as opportunities for taking stock and time to think, rather than a useless waste of time. Choose to go with the flow or fight it, as necessary. Choose. But, all the time find pleasure in the water, for all too soon the river runs dry and the ride is over.
What did I discover today? That, if life is a river I better learn to enjoy being wet, instead of wishing to be dry.
“Go to Gate 14.”
© Allan Gaw 2012
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