I recorded this week’s podcast whilst on an unanticipated stopover in Dubai. Thanks to an unfortunate incident involving a child vomiting in front of a flight attendant, and a family unwilling to leave the plane on doctor’s orders by any method other than a security escort, I missed my connecting flight to Adelaide. So I had to wait for 24 hours, under the hospitable hand of Emirates, before trying again.
As is the way with these kinds of things, it gave me both time and food to pause and reflect. This episode is largely that.
Why do we do what we do when it’s bad for everyone?
The family on the plane that was late were clearly distressed. But the staff seemed to deal with it well and even offered them a replacement flight when the child is given the all-clear by the doctor to fly. Yet the distress created desperation and an irrational refusal to get off the plane.
They chose the option, as if they were picking whether to eat the chicken or the beef for their meal. They asked to have security come and remove them. The quietly dignified exit wasn’t their preference. With two small children I couldn’t help but feel I was watching lifelong traumatic memories being painted right in front of me.
Yet it was like the gambler who is stuck in the belief that they cannot stop betting because the moment they do is the moment they would have won. As long as they were in those seats, there was somehow a sense of hope that a miracle would occur.
By the time they had finally exited the plane, we were an hour late. By the time we arrived in Dubai, I had 10 minutes before my connecting plane took off. Despite my best efforts (massive speed and endurance to get through security and across that airport), the gate was closed. The plane was taxiing away in the window, and the futility of my exertion paraded before me like a gloating tin sausage.
Reacting to Disappointment
There was someone shouting at the man on the gate. She had obviously missed the flight too. She even pointed at me. I was in a panting, sweaty mess. She used me as an example of the effort we were all clearly putting in to make the flight. He looked at me, and told me with a reassuring calmness that I was rebooked for the next flight. It appeared that I had an easier task than she did. There were quite a few of us from the Birmingham plane. She wasn’t one of them. I’m not sure why she was late.
I walked away from the counter, the continued onslaught of insults and pleading fading into the background noise. “They’re not going to turn the plane around and let us on”, I thought to myself, despite her heartfelt requests, “…or are they? Should I wait and see? No.”
We Control Very Little
As I observed the situations unfolding, I had a deep awareness of how little control I had over things. But I felt pretty calm about that. Worrying wouldn’t change the situation. Getting angry wouldn’t make things better. And feeling resentment about the cause of the delay wasn’t going to make the plane go any faster.
Yes I was fortunate too. I still got to where I was going without it costing anything (other than £7.50 for a small can of deodorant which I bought before I knew the value of a UAE Dirham. I was just a little later, and I was well looked after, while waiting for the next flight.
It was an opportunity to remember that, while I can’t control much, I can control my thoughts about what happens to me. And I can control the choice I make in what to do next and how to respond to any situation. Just because things don’t go to plan, it doesn’t mean I need to put my contentment on hold.
I thought about Chase Reeve’s words: “if you don’t feel it now, you wont feel it then”. If I don’t allow for happiness to enter into this moment (however bad things get), then it’s irrational to believe that I will feel truly content when I get to where I want to get. There will always be something to complain about. It’s these moments of adversity, where there is an obstacle to negotiate, which give us the opportunity to understand true joy.
To perhaps turn it around slightly… “if I can feel it now, despite everything, then I’ll continue to feel it when I get there”.
I’m in Australia now. Ready for a very strange Christmas. First time I’ve ever experienced it in the summer.