Category Archives: Comfort

Flight Delay

My favorite flight delay (yes, I have one) was a delay in Chicago in October 2016. A massive fall thunderstorm swept through the Midwest, setting off a cascade of flight cancellations. By the time my connecting flight home was cancelled at 10:00 pm, it had been delayed six times. I’d hoped against hope while grabbing dinner in a packed bar with the entire airport watching the Cubs on their way to their first World Series since 1908. When the airline finally gave me my hotel voucher, I’d long ago said goodbye to my suitcase with my toiletries and jammies in Toronto, where I was forced to check my bag on an overfull flight.

Throngs of tired and cranky passengers waited for their vouchered shuttle in an icy October drizzle, the remnants of the storm that was the cause of all of our suffering. When we finally packed into ours after 40 minutes in the cold, there were apparently so many cancelled flights that it just kept driving. We finally arrived at a dingy Holiday Inn in some generic suburb of Chicago. I got my room key and complimentary toothbrush and wandered around trying to find my room. That was more difficult than it should have been given there were almost no lights on in the cavernous tropical pool area. I was struck at how perfectly the setting mirrored a B-grade horror show, complete with its hapless, lone female victim. I saw literally not a single other soul. I quickly deadbolted my room and prayed I’d make it through the night. Then the fun began.

As I internally debated the pros of sleeping in the same clothes I’d been wearing all day and would again much of tomorrow against the “relative” cleanliness of this fine establishment, I improvised a makeshift contact lens case out of the hotel glasses, the soap dish, and some coffee filters. As I labored, I began to realize how very cold it was in there. The heater didn’t work. I should have thrown a fit and made them switch my room (heaven knows it felt every other room in the place was unoccupied), but I’d retained my good mood so far, so instead I waited 20 minutes for a maintenance guy who seemed to know just what was wrong, like this had happened before. As I let a strange man into my room at midnight in a place I was sure no one could hear me scream, I held the room door open into the dark abyss…I knew it was a pointless gesture if my fate were already sealed, but it made me feel better. He had it fixed in a few minutes and told me to give it half an hour to get warm. He was right about that, too.

In the morning I showered, put my dirty clothes back on, and hopped the shuttle for the long drive back to the airport. I took one conference call in the shuttle and another at my gate to deal with an unfolding work crisis. I got home tired and feeling like the floor of a taxi cab (one of my favorite borrowed sayings), but still in good humor. I’m not sure why: there was a day when less than this chain of events would have left me angry and stressed. But a lot has happened these last five years, and I guess I’m more comfortable with not being in control. I’ve learned beyond any shadow of a doubt that any feeling of control I ever had was always an illusion that I fooled myself with to stay sane. Instead, I found humor in the cascading comedy of events. No permanent harm done. But it did leave me a permanent gift: this story.

“The only thing you sometimes have control over is perspective. You don’t have control over your situation. But you have a choice about how you view it.” –Chris Pine

Advertisements

Safe

I’ve long known that my comfort zone acts like a box with moveable sides which I must regularly push out, or they will slowly move in on me. One of the more profound times I pushed out had an amazing payoff, though I look back now and realize it wasn’t entirely safe. I ask myself, if I had it to do again, would I?

I needed to meet up with the team in rural Romania for a project; they’d been there a week already, and I was traveling alone. Traveling in Eastern Europe is very different than traveling in Western Europe…few natives speak English, and signs and menus don’t have the familiar Latin roots which can help you muddle through. I landed in the chaotic Bucharest airport, withdrew 200 Romanian leu to get me to Podari, a farm town over two hours away by train, and knew to avoid all of the shouting men harassing me with calls of “taxi” in favor of the official taxi stand. Not everyone who takes one of those unauthorized taxis makes it to their destination whole. When I got to the hotel, I learned that my train would leave bright and early the next morning at 08:00. I also learned that my 200 leu wouldn’t go go very far, when an email from the project lead said their American, non-chip credit cards were not working in the card readers at most places. His note was dire: “Bring cash, lots of it.” The concierge told me there was an ATM a couple of blocks away, so I set out on foot. As I wound my way alone through a quiet residential neighborhood in Bucharest, I realized that if anyone wanted to accost me, no one would ever know what happened to me. I could just disappear. I walked faster and finally found the ATM twice as far as what a “couple of blocks” is to me…to no avail. I walked hurriedly back to the hotel and wondered just how dire our financial situation was.

I got up at 05:00 the next morning heavily jet lagged and hopped into a cab for the train station. Here’s where the adventure really began. As we flew through the dark streets of Bucharest (and “flew” is not a literary exaggeration), I began to wonder, again, if my goose was cooked. My first fear was that I was going to die at the hands of a Romanian-speaking cab driver’s erratic driving (I soon learned that seat belts are an unnecessary cost in 2nd-world Romania). But after Formula One racing through the streets of Bucharest for the 15 minutes the hotel told me it would take, with no train station in sight, a new fear took hold. Was he just pulling the universal taxi scam of taking me for all the fare that he could? Did he really know where I needed to go? Did he intend to take me there at all? Once again I felt all of the vulnerable, lone female traveler that I was. As 30 minutes went by, and my adrenaline level climbed pretty high as I pondered my limited options, we suddenly stopped (again, “suddenly” is not a literary exaggeration)…in front of the train station. I got out hugely relieved and feeling a little guilty for my thoughts about my driver. But my ordeal was not over.

Trying to buy a 2nd class train ticket (to save my meager cash reserves) without speaking the language was tricky (I guess she thought my two fingers were some kind of haggling ploy). I finally managed to get my ticket bought after some ridiculous pantomiming, and went into the station. It was a foreboding place. Dark, dirty and neglected, it was busy and active with the same bootleg tax drivers at the airport and ordinary Romanian commuters. Covered but open to the outside, I was grateful it was September and warm. I quickly found a clean and bright beacon in a blessed McDonald’s (it looked like it had a halo over it, I still hear angels sing when recalling it) in the center of the station. It wasn’t busy, likely out of the financial reach of most of my fellow commuters. I nursed my Coke in its safety for well over an hour. The downside of the Coke and the time, however, had me looking for a water closet, thinking I’d be better off in the station than on the 2nd class car on the train. I was wrong. After descending the dark, narrow steps into the basement restroom, I found I had to pay a couple of leu for a dark, dank concrete stall with no light on the women’s side. It would have made a perfect prison cell in any B grade horror movie. I did my business as quickly as I ever had, while trying to touch absolutely nothing (in the dark, I couldn’t even see what I wasn’t touching, likely a small blessing). When I emerged back into the dim light, I felt literally liberated. As I found my way to my train line, I saw an ATM and tried my luck again:  still no luck and sure that I’d be filing a fraud claim with my credit card company when I got home for trying to use it in such a safe public place.

I was beyond relieved to finally board the train. I’ve written about the rest of this trip before…it was a highlight of my life. This is the way life often is:  you must be willing to get outside your comfort zone to have some of the best experiences. You must risk getting hurt, or it was never a risk in the first place. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. The Belgian member of our team had a European chip credit card and ended up with an enormous expense report. I didn’t need to file a fraud claim on mine. And I saw amazing sights and ate wonderful food and met interesting people, none of which I will ever forget. And I pushed my box walls out again, at least for awhile.

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”  –Neale Donald Walsch


Gift


This week I found myself again passing along a piece of wisdom and advice to a new friend from a wise old friend. Years ago after major surgery, my friends and colleagues were showering me with food and gifts and loans of books and videos to help me pass the time in recovery. While my friend was making a drop off, I protested how unnecessary all of this was. She stopped me dead in my tracks, asking me what I’d have wanted to do if it was one of them? “Help”, I had to sheepishly admit. Well, she said, then this was my gift to them…letting them help me. I had no good rebuttal.

Exactly a decade later, I again had the chance to practice being on the receiving end when Megan became ill. This time I got my friend’s advice right. So many people, even strangers, stepped forward to help us get through that time that it was almost overwhelming. But I let them. Showers of cards and gifts arrived at the hospital, from as far away as Europe. Peoples of literally every faith prayed for her. A dear friend’s sister-in-law, who I’d never met, became my first and only friend in Little Rock. She offered me clean clothes and a shower, to bake in her kitchen if I wanted, and the healing love of her golden retriever. Though I couldn’t bring myself to tear away from the hospital to take her up on it, it was deeply comforting to not feel alone in that strange city. That generosity repeated itself when another stranger had a care package and helpful advice waiting for us when we transferred to Cincinnati. Another friend texted me nearly every day for the four months in the hospital, just to check in; I’ll never forget that she was always there if I needed someone to talk to. An old friend from my hometown asked if there wasn’t some familiar treat she could send me. My instinct was to say no thank you, I’m fine. But I knew she just wanted to do something, anything. For the next several weeks, I was warmed by her kindness every time I broke into a box of the world’s best cashews. I’d learned my lesson. The year Megan was sick was by far the hardest of my life, and I’d undo all she’s had to endure in a heartbeat if I could. And yet I look back on that traumatic time with some measure of reminiscence for the love that so many showered on us. It’s an incredible reminder in this often ugly world that good and love will always win.

It’s now my turn to pray for and do what I can to support my new friend as she goes through her significant trial. And I’ll continue to pass along to others in need the wise words given to me all those years ago. It’s now my turn to receive the special gift of giving.

“Remember that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more.”  –H. Jackson Brown Jr.


Taken for Granted

I once spent some time with a middle-aged Russian woman. We never conversed, and I don’t recall her name. I’d been assigned to work on a project for two weeks in a remote village in Russia, five hours from Moscow. The village of 20,000 in the middle of Russian farmland didn’t have a hotel or restaurant, though we did eat at the local disco one evening (a whole other story). We stayed at the company’s “guest house” (do NOT think plush Swedish villa), and the Russian woman was our cook, laundress, and house cleaner.

I have three memories of her. She was always there with breakfast ready when we awoke in the morning, and again with dinner underway when we arrived back at the house, after we finished our work for the day. Every day but one, dinner was some version of “mystery pork.” Most were fairly tasty if basic, but the other picky eater in the group and I became the “canaries”, carefully testing a small bite before signaling the all clear. Breakfast was generally safer, but I was still really grateful to have 2-3 choices (though also basic) in the plant cafeteria at lunch. I’ve wondered if she always served pork because that was the cheapest choice on an allowance she was given, or if that was simply her only choice at all. By the end of the two weeks, several of my teammates came to believe that she only pretended to speak just Russian, that she really understood some English after all, as she hovered in the kitchen while we ate. We’ll never know for sure.

Though we never spoke, midway through the trip, one event made me decide I liked her. Given the utter lack of entertainment in the village, we hired a driver to take us to Moscow for the weekend. Ahh, to eat something other than pork, and to sleep in a real hotel bed that didn’t resemble a cot, with a heater adequate to keep out the March cold! Before we left for the city, we were told to leave any laundry we needed done on our bed, along with money to pay her to do it. How much money, we asked? Our teammate gave us a rough idea, but it was all pretty ambiguous. I took my best guess, rounded up, and hoped I’d been fair. When we returned Sunday night, my clothes were clean and neatly folded on my cot. Most of the team’s were. But two of our colleagues’ beds were empty. As we compared notes over the next couple of days, we discovered the pattern:  those us us who’d received our clothes immediately had paid her the most, either relative to the amount of our laundry or in total. One of our delayed colleagues, who’d left a respectable sum but also a mountain of clothes, got his back Monday night. She made the last guy sweat it out until Tuesday night, when he was down to his last clean clothes. I like my colleagues, but it was amusing to watch her school us all with a very clear and simple lesson.

But my starkest memory occurred in my last 15 minutes with her. I’d cleared my stuff out of my room, hauling it into the foyer to wait for the driver to take us the long drive back to Sheremetyevo Airport. When I unexpectedly went back into my room, I realized she’d already been there. While the room hadn’t yet been cleaned, I noticed she’d already taken the trash out. Well, some of the trash. What was missing were two unopened foil packages of crumbly Pop Tarts and half of a large chocolate bar I’d purchased in Moscow, still in the wrapper, displaced by my Moscow souvenirs. 

She took my used food. 

From the trash.

Items of literally zero value to me were worth taking from the trash to her. It was a jolt reminder of how much I take for granted in my very comfortable life. We’d struggled sometimes when I was a kid, but I never went hungry. I’ve never taken food out of someone else’s trash. In that instant, she gifted me with an even bigger lesson, one I’ve not forgotten in the years since. I’m so very blessed. I pray that she and her family are as well.

“Abundance is not something we acquire. It is something we tune into.”  –Wayne Dyer


Comfort Zone


I learned a long time ago that my comfort zone is like a box with movable sides. If I stay comfortably inside my box, over time it slowly closes in around me, becoming steadily smaller. I find it critical to routinely push myself outside my box, pushing the walls out with me. By now, it’s a predictable, inevitable pattern.

It’s been awhile since I’ve pushed my box out in a big way. Three years ago, the sides of my box were abruptly yanked away altogether when Megan fell ill. Every day brought frightening new experiences, and for the first time in my life, all of my energy was needed just to keep everything from flying apart. Then just as things began to calm on that front, I changed jobs; that was plenty for awhile. I’m starting to feel rested and stable…not yet too stable, but I know it’s coming. 

I always need a next frontier, but I no longer have any idea what the next one might be. I’ve got a few loose ideas, but nothing that’s grabbed me yet. Guess I’ll have to take the small opportunities for awhile and wait. Patience has never been my strong suit…I may have to make something happen. I hear you can now take tours of Chernobyl…that should do it.

“The risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision.”  –Malmonides


New


The pads on our 6-month old puppy’s paws are still soft and pink. My husband said it’s because life hasn’t had a chance to wear them down yet, because she’s still a “new dog”. I like that concept:  “new dog”. If you think about it, we were all once new ourselves.

Puppies are such a gift, so pure and innocent. Ours has only five states:  streaking through the yard at top speed; playing; cuddling; afraid that she’s in trouble; and asleep. Life is very simple for her, and it’s refreshing to watch. Her few moods are highly contagious, especially her joy and love. She’d wormed her way into all of our hearts by her second week here. She’s easy to love.

Just as her paw pads will eventually wear down as she gets older, it’s easy for us to get worn down the farther we move away from being “new”. Life has a way of wearing on you, if we let it, even robbing us of our joy. That’s why I love having a puppy in the house again, even though she’s destructive and expensive. Her innocent antics make me smile and remind me of when I, too, was new. She gives the priceless gift of joy.

“If you carry joy in your heart, you can heal any moment.”  –Carlos Santana


Fear


A leader whom I admire said this week that we need to drive out fear, versus using it as a tool for power. We were lamenting that this has been an election of fear. I told him part of my truth, but not all of it.

I told him that my brother-in-law is terrified that his Mexican wife of 20 years, the mother of their two daughters, will be deported. I told him that my gay friends are afraid their marriages will be dissolved. I told him that a sweet, young Vietnamese friend was disturbed by a horrible racist incident on her campus in Minnesota. I shared how troubled I was at the stories of harassment of blacks and Muslim women wearing hijabs, and of Hispanic children bullied at their schools with taunts of being deported and building the wall. And this is the experience of a privileged white woman since the election. But I didn’t tell him the rest.

I didn’t tell him that I’ve lost sleep over these last couple of weeks for fear of slowly losing our civil rights and democracy to an autocrat who trades in fear. I didn’t tell him how I’ve struggled to understand how so many could overlook such overt sexism, racism, and bullying for a single issue or for politics. I couldn’t admit that I’ve been unable to watch the news or open a newspaper since the election, as it’s too depressing to think about a racist overseeing the country’s law enforcement, or an isolationist as national security adviser, or a white supremacist whispering in the ear of the man in the most powerful job in the world. I’m having trouble coping with news stories about ripping families apart through the immediate deportation of 2-3 million citizens, or how there’s “historical precedence” for a Muslim registry or even internment camps. My world changed overnight, and I’ve struggled to cope with it all. My struggle is embarrassing and shocking at the same time:  after all, I’m a 50-year old strong and successful woman. How can this have impacted me so?

But I’m my mother’s daughter, and I knew that I would eventually pick myself up. The shock and fear are starting to wear off, being replaced by determination. I’ve started taking action, and that is lessening my fear. I will fight to keep the gains women have made over these last 50 years, for myself yes, but especially for my teenage daughters. I will be vocal in support of the right to basic dignity and protection that my LGBT family and friends deserve. And, as scared as I am of the thought, if necessary I would face water cannons and prison to ensure that the freedoms of religion and speech remain bedrocks of American democracy.

My favorite Bible verse is Romans 8:38-39, and it reminds me that neither principalities nor powers can separate us from the love of God. And in Philippians 1:30, Paul invites us to join him in the battle. In my immediate reaction, I nearly forgot Who always has been and will be in complete control. But He has always needed arms and legs. I offer mine. I am not afraid.

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality…I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”  –Martin Luther King Jr.