Today I set out to fly to Dallas. The flight was redirected due to a thunderstorm, and since we were at risk of running out of fuel, we landed in Tulsa, Oklahoma. After an hour of sitting in a hot plane in 90-degree-Tulsa, the pilot came over the intercom and informed us that he had reached his maximum flight time and, per the law, he could not fly us to Dallas tonight. It settled in quickly – myself and about 80 other passengers were stuck in Tulsa for the night. We would need to pay for a hotel on our own dime and then get back to the airport for a 6:30 AM flight to Dallas the next morning. It was hot, we were hungry, and our necks were cramped and legs were sore from hours in our torture chambers – oops, I mean airplane seats. These were, as the Texan gentleman next to me said, “all the fixins for” a disgruntled group of passengers.
We’ve all been there. Sometimes it seems as if travel plans, like rules, are made to be broken. A delayed flight, a double booked seat, a missed connection… In travel, especially with the airlines, there are really no promises that schedules will be kept or plans will be followed. Those of us, simple peasants who can’t hop a private jet, are at the mercy of the elements and the airlines’ ability to survive them.
I listened and observed my fellow passengers as we moved, like sheep, from on board the flight, to baggage claim, to the rental car waiting lines. What I observed led to a profound revelation: Everyone here is furious except me. Why am I the only one who is happy and content? After all, this type of scenario would normally bring out Grumpy Chris, as if I needed a Snickers to bring me back to being myself. Shouldn’t I have been furious like the woman in the seat in front of me, digging through her fanny pack and saying, “can you believe this?! This is Unacceptable!”?
As I reflected, it became clear why I was feeling so optimistic. During the flight I was reading the New York Times Best Seller The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, a story about Joe Rantz and his eight crew-mates from the University of Washington rowing team. As the story goes, Joe’s mother died when he was four years old and then his dad abandoned him, all while he was catching Scarlet Fever. He then grew up mostly homeless, hungry, and alone during the Great Depression and was living alone at age ten in an abandoned farmhouse. His dad reappeared and abandoned him again three different times in total. Joe’s story is somber but captivating. As he recounts his younger years, harder than anything I have ever experienced, he never does so in a negative way or with a tone of complaint, he simply tells his story (through Daniel James Brown), each piece of it a special part of his journey.
That journey (one worth reading, by the way) would lead Joe Rantz to marry the love of his life, have a family, work his way through college, and become an Olympian gold medal winner in the 1936 Olympics in Germany. All while using lessons from his difficult childhood and using them to live a wonderful life.
Something about reading Joe’s story made a flight redirecting to Tulsa for a night so easy. In fact, it felt like more of an adventure than an inconvenience. The wrench in my plans, seemingly inconvenient and infuriating, became instead an opportunity to learn, grow, and reflect. It is times like this I remember my father-in-law, Scott, saying, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” This outlook allows anyone to rest in the chaos of broken plans.
Now I am sitting in Tulsa, hopelessly optimistic. Hot and sweaty and hungry, yes, but still pleasantly happy and surprisingly content. This wonderful state of mind I fell into is all a result of using the tool that we all have in our tool belt – Optimism. A tool worth carrying, not only during travel but at all times. Whether I consciously made the choice to be optimistic or not, I am not sure. However, I realize now, more than ever, that optimism is without a doubt the most useful tool I have ever used.
Good night, Tulsa.