I just finished a 52 hour flight/travel nightmare—for a trip that should have taken 18 hours. I arrived a day-and-a-half late for a four-day trip. My luggage arrived the day before I left. Part of this was a weather delay, but a significant part was human incompetence.
As I watched my third flight in 24 hours take off without me or my family, only because someone had failed to process the new ticket correctly, I did not throw a tantrum—although I wanted to. I did not scream at the gate attendant—although I really, really wanted to.
I grounded myself, again and again, and again. I breathed. I counted. I did every technique I know and then a few more to keep my focus on not getting angry at people who had not caused the problem.
The gate attendant, Sabrina, who had nothing to do with the earlier mistakes and this missed flight was not her fault, then spent the next two hours helping to sort out the flights and making sure that we didn’t have to spend another day in transit. Without her persistence, we might still be travelling!
Only after Sabrina got the tickets sorted out did I realize that her shift had ended two hours ago. She was just volunteering her time to solve another airlines mistake.
I could have screamed and yelled at her when I got to the gate and she told me our tickets were not in the system. I could have lost my temper with her when she wouldn’t let us on the flight. After no sleep the night before, an all-night flight and running through the airport carrying a three-year-old to catch this flight, I would have been justified on so many levels!
But if we believe in this practice of compassion, of mindfulness, of being fully aware in the moment, then we have to live it when we are exhausted and angry. If I had lost my temper at her, maybe she would have helped so much, but probably not.
Practicing mindfulness doesn’t mean we allow ourselves to get pushed around or to not stand up when we are mistreated. But if we are practicing mindfulness we can separate the issue from the person. We can resist the urge to blame the person in front of us and take out our anger on that person.
After many phone calls with the original airline and many very intense conversations, I finally got our flights sorted. I was firm, but polite and keep repeating, “That solution is not acceptable, please find an alternative solution.” Another layover, “That solution is not acceptable…”, a later flight, “That solution is not….”, you get the idea.
We always choose how we will respond in each moment to any new situation or challenge. I can’t claim I didn’t get angry or upset a few times over this long trip at people that had made mistakes and probably some that hadn’t.
We always choose how we will treat people that we will never interact with again. We can choose compassion or we can choose anger. We can choose kindness or we can choose hatred.
I choose to remember the kindness of Sabrina, the very helpful gate attendant.