Yesterday the Lord gave me an opportunity to look adversity in the eye and respond with the Grace and Love that only comes through the Father. It was a test that I had taken before, a test that usually comes as more of a pop quiz style test. Sadly I failed it miserably. The test? United Airlines.
The first leg of this multiple part examination of my spiritual maturity began with the ticket agent at Nashville International airport. We’ll call her “Marge” for the purposes of anonymity and entertainment.
Marge was dimly lit in every sense of the word. It seemed as if there were synapses firing in her brain, but just not in any particular order that would allow her to make good decisions in trying times. This was evidenced by the fact that she printed my boarding passes on a flight that was delayed to the point that I would have 10 minutes to make it across Washington Dulles onto my international flight to Frankfurt, Germany.
There were myriad more confusing moments to come including her not realizing that I had been booked on Business class at a significantly increased cost which required her to start over… again. After what seemed around 30 minutes, we told her we would just work it out at the gate.
Imagine our surprise when we arrived at the gate to find “Marge” now working as the gate agent. It was like I had stumbled into an episode of Seinfeld. There she was. 15 people backed up in line and that same dimly lit look in her eyes that conveyed a deep desire to understand, but no ability to actually connect lucid thoughts. At one moment, she announced to the gathered crowd that the delayed flight would take off at the scheduled delayed time of 2:21. The problem? It was 2:10 and there wasn’t even a plane at the gate let alone ready to be deplaned. We would ultimately take off at 3pm.
We had a flight to connect with in Dulles that would take us to Frankfurt where many things were already planned and ready to go. There were people that would be waiting and a schedule with the USO to be kept.
Upon arriving in Dulles we found ourselves in the middle of one of the nations larger airports with no idea which way to go, or if we were going to make our flight because our connection had since been delayed. Unfortunately it wasn’t delayed enough, the flight had left 30 minutes earlier.
We moved with purpose and urgency across the entirety of Dulles. I can’t possibly understand how so much square footage can exist and still be inside but it does. It was like running the half marathon in boots and with a back pack. This must be what it felt like in the Biodome.
You see, “Marge” had booked us on the next flight out as a back up plan. This was a rare moment of clarity in “Marge’s” life and inside I celebrated with her because I knew that these moments were far and few between. Unfortunately that internal celebration came to a screeching halt when I met the new rain on our parade at gate D15. I don’t even know what his name was but of all the ways I could describe this man, “helpful” would not be one of them. Nor would kind, gracious, or interested.
Along with the cadre of other people standing around wondering if they were going to Germany; I was not a part of his job, I was an interruption of it. In a very dismissive tone he informed me that “marge” had not actually booked us on the flight but rather put us on the stand by list. Suddenly I understood why she couldn’t print the boarding passes in Nashville. She said the printer was broken. I fell for the oldest trick in the ticket agent book. The ol’ “printer is broken” trick. I felt stupid, and aware that I was not going to Germany on this night.
It is at this moment that I would like to tell you that I stopped, thanked God for this trial and maybe hummed a few bars of that Amy Grant song about angels. Perhaps God kept me off that plane for a reason. Unfortunately that is not what happened.
After being treated with multiple levels of condescension and dismissive tones the flight was closed and we were instructed to go to “Customer Service”. The term customer service by it’s very nature denotes a place where the customer will be served. It would probably be a better and more accurate term if it were called Customer Time Waster.
Along with my friends I waited in line for about 45 minutes while the 2 agents wasted the time of the people in front of me. It would have probably taken longer except for attrition. (several people gave up in haste before ever reaching the counter of terror) For those that did manage to wait; One by one they would walk away from the desk with looks of disgust, disdain and rejection. It looked like the line of the guys in high school being rejected by the hot girl in school. (a line I was all too familiar with)
I was greeted by my biggest challenge of the day. This gauntlet would end with a 4’ 11” Asian lady who was not in the mood to be trifled with. I was basically informed that the next available flight was Monday night (24 hours later). When asked about help with hotels or food or for that matter underwear she called some number where some potentially pretend person on the other line said that the flight was delayed due to air traffic control (it was not) and thus it was not their fault and they wouldn’t help with hotels or even a tooth brush. Unless we were having a medical emergency we couldn’t even get our luggage.
It was at this moment that I slid into the cranky old man mode and exclaimed very loudly “Well you guys are really a piece of work aren’t you!?!!?” Loudly so that those in line behind me could understand my outrage and perhaps feel some sort of solidarity with my plight. I was then informed that I could go down to the other customer service where they handle requests like mine.
I swear I’m not making that up. This was the “express” customer service even though no sign described it that way nor what that would mean if it was an express customer service. We walked by the other customer service counter on our way to the hotel and saw a line that was longer, more disgusted, and more rejected. I talked to a couple of people in the line who had moved 10 feet in the past hour. They still had 20 feet to go.
Now to be clear, my attitude at this point was at best disagreeable and at worst purely toxic. Somebody made the statement that we would laugh about this some day. I immediately dismissed that idea. I would never laugh about this. I was in a surly mood.
So surly that when we finally got to the hotel and I laid down I couldn’t sleep. I got up and actually spent 30 minutes filling out the http://www.ualsurvey.com I swear it took 30 minutes not because I had so much to write but because that is how the survey is designed. Even their customer service survey is a pain in the butt with this company. If you’re unhappy you’re going to have to work at it to tell someone.
Be that as it may, I was undeterred. I was sure I would hit send and it would go to the nowhere part of the world where spare socks from the dryer go, but it was cathartic and it felt like a perfect use of my indignation. I used large and scorching words like “antipathy”, “aversion” and “surfeit”. If they weren’t going to do anything about it then at least I could sting them with a good vocabulary. (for some reason that felt like the way that I could show them something. What I’m not sure, but something)
I finally laid down around 1am. Sleepy and convicted. A guilty conscience is not a good pillow nor a comfortable bed. I was reminded of Jacob laying his head down on a rock and going to sleep.
I was in Africa only two weeks ago. Almost every child I encountered would never see the inside of a jet plane let alone lay on a bed with pillows. I was incensed, but with a full stomach from the nice restaurant in the hotel. I was disgruntled, but very clean from the granite tile shower with multiple water jet locations. I was exasperated laying on a bed with a down comforter and feather pillows with the temperature set at a crisp 65 degrees. I repented immediately.
I woke up this morning with the idea that Gods mercies are new every morning. I wondered if United’s incompetence would be new as well. If it were then I planned to hit it with a whole new outlook and strategy. I planned to reconnect to the vine and let the fruit of the spirit flow through me. Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, patience, which is to say none of what I showed yesterday.
I’m sitting in the United Airlines airport lounge in Washington Dulles as I write this. I’m sitting in yesterdays clothes save for a brand new pair of .99 socks and $3 tighty whiteys from CVS pharmacy. Strangely everyone we’ve encountered today has been pleasant, helpful, and agreeable. I’m prepared for the worst, but God has brought me the best.
As I’ve said before “fruit” is a result of actions that took place long ago. A tree planted by the water, a branch connected to the vine will produce fruit all on it’s own. No need for working at it. It just happens. It would seem as though my branch might not be as connected to the vine as I had hoped.
Perhaps that goes back to the pop quiz though about the tests. I failed it yesterday. I’m sure I’ll get to take it again. Maybe not today, but some day soon. Maybe this isn’t so much a test of how I can respond when I’m planning on it, but rather what is my go to instincts
I’ll let you know how it goes.