It is 5:30am. I sip my stale, airport coffee while my disheveled reflection stares at me through the reflection in the Gate C4 window. The not entirely disappointing oatmeal I just ate is one of two things I have eaten in the past 48 hours. For, within these past two days, I have found myself preoccupied in the Boston-Logan International Airport, in the saddest Newton bus station I’ve ever seen, on the side of the road in New Haven, in the backseat of innumerable overly-priced Ubers, in a snowstorm that I was drastically ill-prepared for, in sprints between NYC Metro lines (which I found to be most definitely not running), in my friend’s stereotypically scrappy, closet-sized apartment in New York City, and now, finally, at rest watching the LaGuardia airport crankily awake for the day. Sometime— anytime— later today, I hope to be in Charlotte, embraced by my parents’ empathy and embracing their fully stocked fridge. Like myself, I am sure this is not what you mean when you say you want to travel over spring break. But, sometimes, what you mean is not what you say, what you intend for is not what you receive, and this, my friends, this is what you get. And somehow, still, I am grateful.
This story of navigating a cancelled flight throughout a drastic weather emergency and one of the busiest flight seasons of the year is not entirely foreign to most; rather Steve Martin and John Candy make us all feel a little more sane by epitomizing it in the 1987 film “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”— which, like any Steve Martin movie, is pitifully corny and hilariously desperate, thus totally worth the watch. That being said, I feel as though I am in no place to judge Steve Martin on his trademarks, as my misadventures from Boston to Charlotte are just as hilariously desperate: nothing reeks of desperation like praying for an open seat on a 22 hour bus ride, later swallowing the lump in my throat when my prayers went unanswered.
Typically, this kind of compiling shit-show of failed endeavors would be just enough to push me, like most any other, into a downward spiral of self-pity and distributed blame; yet, this time, I have found myself shockingly, amusingly, at peace. However, in no way do I intend to take the credit for this feeling of assurance, rather I attribute my relative ease to the amazing demonstrations of kindness and empathy I have been gifted on my horribly ridiculous trip. I find myself at peace thanks to my parents, who ceaselessly drop everything at my beck and call. In this case, that looked like my mother spending hours on hold with American Airlines, alongside thousands of other equally distraught and urgent callers, while simultaneously exhausting each idea for every possible route north to south via any and all forms of transportation. This also looked like my father putting his decidedly more important trip on hold to persistently research, book, cancel, rebook, call, and effectively convince airline gate agents on my behalf, both at the airport as well as in between (and probably during) his own travels and meetings. Not to mention all of the money they graciously flung toward any and every hope of getting me home. For my parents I am grateful always, but in moments like these, all the more so.
Further, I have renewed confidence in the compassion of complete strangers; I am grateful for the strangers who embodied kindness and who ardently gifted it to me given my despondency. This kindness looked like the off-duty gate agent in Boston-Logan whom I probed for help after failing to out-compete 30 other passengers on standby for the first and only not cancelled flight headed to Charlotte (as well as headed anywhere remotely south). His patience and persistence were unmeasured, especially given the circumstances and the inevitably long days he had ahead of him, and regretful am I that my sincerest of thanks is all I had to offer him in return. This kindness also looked like each Uber driver who displayed sympathy, even if only pretending to for a five-star rating. This looked like my friend from high school who raced home to her New York apartment to welcome me in, who sacrificed her only pillow to let me rest my head for the night. Finally, this kindness is the passengers waiting alongside me in Gate C4, of whom I discovered none of which to be actually intending to go to Louisville, but all of them intending to laugh away the misery that evidently all of us had experienced in our efforts to get where we were going. Never has a plane full of people been more nonsensically excited to be headed to Kentucky.
Given the abounding kindness I found myself experiencing along my journey, it felt only right to proceed by paying forward the kindness that I had been gifted. What I mean is that, instead of adopting anger or rudeness in response to my decidedly frustrating situation, I chose to remain in the place of kindness and gratitude that these strangers had created for me. Though I knew I could probably excuse being rude with a claim like “you have no idea the kind of day I have had,” I was forced to recognize that my bad day truly does nothing to excuse any kind of bad behavior. Rather, I would look foolish by asserting their ignorance for, in doing so, I only assert my own, as I have no idea what kind of day the person I was interacting with was having either. In fact, it is very likely that each person I encountered throughout my journey, each person who extended me kindness, was in the middle of an equally bad, if not significantly worse, day, week, month, or year. Yet, each person persistently chose to demonstrate kindness over rudeness and practice patience despite hardship, even if they had their own reasons to choose the latter.
This is why unconditional and unwavering kindness, patience, and gratitude are the most powerful choices we can make, for these decisions not only effect our personal happiness, but they can so easily influence that of others. And it should be noted that these are, in fact, choices. Negative situations do not necessitate negativity, rather they beg resilience—resilience that may only be discovered through genuine gratitude. Life can be viewed as a compiling list of reasons to wallow in self-pity, or it can be viewed as the endless opportunity for creative problem-solving. To every full or cancelled flight, missed bus, and rerouted trip, I chose not to be upset or give up, for the only thing those responses would have earned me is another missed opportunity and, thus, a forfeited solution. Rather, I only had the time and energy to think “what’s next?” or “what else can I try?” These proactive responses are the only responses that can lead one to achieving any form of success; they are the only reason I am able to finish this article from the comfort of my North Carolina home.
When we choose positivity, relaying gratitude, we choose to move forward in an otherwise stagnating situation. When we choose kindness amid the temptation of rudeness, we choose to respect the humanity in each person we encounter, and only then do we earn the right to the same treatment. Further, whether we receive the respect we deserve or not, we must remain sympathetic toward the challenges of life that affect each one of us in different ways, no matter how large or small they may be, through the recognition that each one of us needs extensions of grace sometimes. That being said, I hope this proclamation can serve as a formal apology to the man who asked me for money when I was rushing through the subway, to whom I responded shortly and without sympathy, as I was too consumed in my own momentary discouragement to acknowledge and respect his probable lifetime’s-worth of such. He was kind in his response to my rudeness, he extended me grace, and I now find myself indebted, searching for ways to pay it forward.I hope we may all strive to understand life in this way: as a string of little opportunities and small exchanges that culminate to deserving outcomes. We can either seize our opportunities or be debilitated by them; we can react with kindness and gratitude or with rudeness and disrespect. And, through these small choices, we hold the power to choose our fate. On Friday, my fate was a cancelled flight to keep me in Boston, away from my long-awaited spring break travels until Monday. Yet, today, I end this article in humble appreciation of a beautiful Saturday afternoon from my home in Charlotte, North Carolina, embraced by the world’s kindness and embracing my enduring gratitude. If this sappily-told story of misadventures can teach us anything, it is that even when a seemingly insurmountable obstacle presents itself, we all eventually find our way home somehow, whether it be through kindness or by way of disrespect. One way may be simpler, one way could be faster, but the way of kindness undoubtedly leaves a trail that empowers others to follow. So, when all else fails, how will you find your way home?