A long time ago, when I was a student at KU I had a friend who, at the moment something peculiar happened to us while we were together, remarked to me, “I believe God sends us signs.”
That discussion, I remember, included some personal anecdotes from her that, at the time, left an impression on me.
Since then, from time to time my path will intersect with someone or something that draws a contrast to my thinking, my lot in life at the time, and I pause and wonder, coincidence or not? Recently I was driving to work, feeling consumed with work stress, and when I pulled up at a stop light on Ward Parkway, to my right was a man waiting for the bus.
He was blind.
Sign or not, it gave me pause.
And it happened again two weeks ago at the Atlanta airport.
My daughter and I were returning from a long trip and our flight connected at Hartsfield-Jackson. It was Friday evening, July 31. When we arrived at the gate, we learned the flight to Kansas City was delayed because the flight attendants were stuck on another delayed flight. The pilots and the plane were at the gate, however.
After a series of further delays, at 11:20 p.m. Delta declared the flight canceled. We were directed to a “rebooking location” and because our luggage was already on the plane at the gate, I decided to wait in line for clarity on where things stood.
The queue was 100 people deep, and two hours later, we were still waiting while efforts to dial various Delta “help” lines were fruitless. Everyone was trying to get to Kansas City. It seemed that each traveler had an even more compelling story than ours — for instance, a bachelorette gathering with the bride stuck in line with us; another traveler was at risk for missing a family reunion that happens every 20 years. Everyone had a level of maturity, a reality about the developments. If we are a nation of complainers, none were in line with us that night.
From those who managed to find a real person on the Delta line, we were hearing that everything out in the morning and afternoon was full. Late evening Saturday or Sunday morning were the only options. People began to band together to rent a car, fly to Wichita, fly to St. Louis and drive together. In some cases, people were driving from Atlanta. Sort of like the movie “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” except without John Candy.
At 2 a.m., it was our turn at the counter and all these suspicions were confirmed. Hotel vouchers were not forthcoming, with a flight home depending on stand-by flight options. It was now 2:30 in the morning. We needed a hotel room but the prospect of waiting on a shuttle bus, finding a hotel room last occupied by General Sherman, paying more money and then returning three hours later to endure security, perhaps find a flight — the choice was pretty obvious. Find a place on a chair, on the floor and make a way.
Maggie and I ended up near gate 20A — one of the few areas not already occupied by someone whose lot was similar. Our hope was to find a rare spot away from the TV’s booming CNN, which we did.
We were about to add another memorable chapter to what had already been a special trip together.
At 3 a.m., I got up to visit the men’s room.
While I walking along terminal gate A20, I turned to my left to see a young man doing something in the terminal walkway. He was exchanging the inventory at one of those food kiosks. He was laboring alone, dressed in khakis with a pressed shirt, going about his work with earnestness.
I stopped my walk and took a longer look at him. He was not a day older than 25. I tried to consider the effort required for someone who works in an airport just to arrive to punch the clock. The commute. The parking. The security screening. Just to earn — what? Maybe 14 dollars an hour. Likely less. Then toss in the graveyard shift.
I went to the men’s room and when I returned he was still there. Laboring.
Maggie and I were fortunate to make it back to KC on Saturday; but our interrupted homecoming gave us both a newfound perspective.
Freelance columnist Matthew Keenan writes on the first and third Wednesday of the month. His book “Call Me Dad, Not Dude, the sequel” is sold at Barnes & Noble and Amazon. Visit his blog at matthewkeenan.com or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.