There is an old saying that “life is a journey.” This expression is overused, but as I get older it seems to make more and more sense to me. And there is another well-worn idea that more often than not, we have far less control over things than we would like to admit. Just a small change can actually have huge ramifications for the future. And so, as another overused expression goes, “life is what happens while we are making other plans.”
A case in point involves the series of fortunate (and unfortunate) events that took place in my life over the past week. While most people would probably not give any of this a second thought I do, because for much of my life I went along not paying attention as madness surrounded me. Now, whenever possible, I try to stop if only for a couple minutes to consider what just happened and why. Does this mean I can change the past or rework the future? Hardly. But at least I am more self-aware than I used to be.
In short, a couple months ago I planned a trip to visit my elderly dad in Buffalo, New York for a weekend. I would then continue on to Philadelphia where I would meet my partner; we and her son would then drive back here to Rawlins in three days. This all sounded simple enough and, to cut to the end of the story, it sort of happened, though not exactly as I had hoped or envisioned. And why not? Five minutes. The answer is “five minutes.”
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I set out on a stormy Friday morning to catch the 6:15 a.m. United flight from Laramie to Denver. The drive down I-80 was pretty brutal. By Elk Mountain I could barely see the road. I slowed to maybe 50 mph and some of the trucks around me followed suit. I was hydroplaning all over the place. And yet, I made it in time without a hitch. In fact, I had a few minutes to breathe. I was OK. Or so I thought.
We boarded the plane. The sky was blue in Laramie with not a cloud. And then the pilot announced that we wouldn’t be taking off for a quite a while. There was fog in Denver. We would have to sit tight.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m all about safety. But fog? I’ve flown all over the world. No pilot flies by looking out the windshield to see what’s ahead. These days planes are mostly flown by computers and instruments, not by vision. I remember once flying in a small plane in Alaska, just the pilot and me. I guess this emboldened him because once we were airborne, he pulled out a paperback novel, which he then read during most of the flight.
In any case, back on the ground in Laramie, we weren’t going anywhere for whatever reason. We sat and sat. We didn’t take off until 8:50. My connection to Chicago would complete boarding at 9:35. I was still OK. Right?
We landed in Denver about 9:15. And then we taxied around. And then, we stopped. Now the pilot announced that we couldn’t pull into our gate because “another plane is already there.”
Now hold on. What is this, the mall? Someone stole my parking space! C’mon, they didn’t know we were coming? There are no other gates? And by the time we pulled into the gate it was now 9:30. I had five minutes to walk (run) from one gate to the next, 14 gates apart. I got there at 9:40. I was 5 minutes late. The gate had just closed. And that was it. My life had just taken a turn.
With some pleading I got a new flight, but now I was going to Buffalo via Dulles in northern Virginia (feel free to look at a map at this point to see why this made me want to scream). But at least this would get me to Buffalo just barely before the Sabbath when I don’t travel.
I boarded the plane to Dulles on time. And then we sat – allowing customers who were late to connect to also board. (Hmmm, what a nice idea!) We took off about 40 minutes late. My connection time at Dulles was only an hour. But no matter – when I arrived at Dulles, I received a text saying my plane to Buffalo was delayed almost three hours. Now I was really in trouble. I would arrive late – long after my father would be asleep. But more, long after sunset when the Sabbath started. What would I do? I approached an agent and asked for help. I explained my situation, but he said no, I was wrong, I needed to refresh my messages. “What?” I asked. “I don’t understand!” “I’m sorry sir,” he said. “Your plane to Buffalo is cancelled. And the next one with an open seat isn’t until tomorrow at 10:00 pm.”
And so I ended up staying in Virginia. My partner drove three hours to get me, and we hit the road back to Rawlins. I never did get to Buffalo. I never did see my dad. We salvaged things, yes. But those “five minutes” changed everything.
If we look back at our lives, we all have examples of those “five minutes.” And like dominoes, just one small change or glitch – sometimes something that at the time we felt was the absolute worst thing in the world that could happen – actually turned out to be for the better. We can never know.
I don’t know why my trip to Buffalo wasn’t “meant to be” or why I ended up in Virginia for two long days. But someday, perhaps years from now, I may eventually find out.
Steven C Dinero, Ph.D., is Executive Director of the Carbon County Museum.