Through a combination of sleepy early morning choices, airline inconsistencies, and long airport security lines we missed our flight. It was 6:30 in the morning, we were traveling in a group, and mistakes were made. When the calls and texts from the rest of the family started to arrive we realized that we – my nephew, my wife, and me – likely were missing our flight.
We were those people running through the airport with furrowed brows, wrangling out of control carry-ons, arriving just in time to see the jetway door closing on us. Naturally, we hoped against hope that the airline would reopen the door leading to a hilarious made-for-TV on-board reunion with our family. No such luck.
Being mere yards away from your destination, blocked only by a heavily fortified door, it’s easy to forget administrative red tape and assume that you’ll attain your goal. In this case, the gate reps simply provided direction to the airline’s help desk.
You Still Have Made a Choice
Upon arriving at the help desk we were told by a kind but pessimistic attendant that we probably wouldn’t meet up with our family until the next day. All of the direct flights were overbooked. The first and only option presented to us was a long, confusing, and exorbitantly priced new route.
We discussed the matter, searched online, even made some calls ourselves, but weren’t having any luck securing better options. We again spoke with the representative who remained doubtful about our chances. We were upset with ourselves, with the airline, with the universe, and we were hungry and tired. We were on the verge of accepting the first offer simply because it was there.
But rather than say yes, we made the best decision of the day so far: we decided not to decide. As any fan of the Canadian power trio, Rush, knows, “if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” So, we chose to search for the nearest coffee shop.
We did not accept the first offer. Instead, we intentionally and consciously paused prior to taking the next step of our journey.
Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There!
Reflecting on this experience I’m reminded of a story I heard from an old Brooklyn roommate. She told me the story of a man who without fail, prior to leaving home, would always sit for at least one minute even if he was running behind schedule. The man’s theory: it was not healthy to start his day rushing mindlessly forward. More important than his schedule was his peace of mind.
It’s easy today to get caught in the belief that time is something either to be filled like a vessel or lost forever. Time, we believe, is something that can be known and understood, something that must be exploited, something that must be measured and monetized. As such, many people feel pressured to fill their lives with as much as can be crammed into every waking moment, an experience that contributes to an inability to tolerate boredom or nonactivity.
Addiction, for example, is an attempt to quiet the voices of one’s demons, fears, and worries. Substance use simultaneously anesthetizes and dampens while also creating meaning and consistency. Unplanned time is intolerable, but substances create the illusion of structure.
For addicts, then, one of the first lessons learned in recovery is the simple, but complex notion that recovery takes place one day at a time. If that’s too much time, recovery is an hour by hour, minute by minute, second by second process. Abstinence and ultimately recovery from addiction only requires that one not use right now, at this very moment.
Not using initially requires sitting with uncomfortable and painful feelings. Early in recovery it’s therefore vital to fill one’s time with activities until one learns to manage triggers: going to meetings, finding new hobbies, helping out friends, cleaning the house, anything so as not to use.
Ultimately, however, it becomes imperative for addicts to grapple with their own anxiety. It becomes necessary to sit there and not do anything. It becomes necessary to stop rushing headlong into the future (or the past, depending on your conception of the arrow of time!) and to slow down to assess one’s position in the world.
As an old AA friend used to say, don’t just do something, sit there.
Which is what we did in the Atlanta airport at 7am; we sat.
We found coffee, we complained, we did more research, we made phone calls, and we laughed. We all agreed it was fortuitous that no one else from our group was waylaid. The mixture of our personalities allowed for calmness, patience, and humor to color the proceedings.
Feeling refreshed, we returned to the airline and decided to speak with another representative, whom I will call Sonja. Sonja was under the weather. Actually, she was sick as a dog, but she was a kind, helpful, and savvy advocate. She went to bat for us with her manager while suffering the effects of a nasty summer cold. Most importantly, she reassured us that while it might be a bit of a wait and a few dollars in fees, we would reconnect with our family later that day.
I have no idea what the crucial difference was between this attempt and our first, but it reminded me that the first opportunity, while logically more convenient and emotionally more calming, is not always the best option; it is usually a good idea to pause and reflect before taking a leap.
We reunited with our family later that day and even had time to enjoy a nap before dinner. And to this day, I’ve still never been charged those rebooking fees. Thank you, Sonja, wherever you are.
Stay tuned: I conclude my series, What I Learned on Summer Vacation, with a post on being present and letting go of negatives.