In Chicago, we marveled at the snowfall on the tarmac. Looking out the window, I joked to my teenage daughter, “Who’s going to shovel all that snow off the wings before we take off?” A little part of me inside grew worried by the minute, because I knew that the harder the snow fell, the better the chances were for a delay.
Sure enough, our delay came. I refused to let it bother me, as I was intentionally trying to demonstrate patience to both my daughter and 6-year-old son accompanying me on our trip back home. This was a remarkably hard task, considering that, in the last three days, I had acquired a cumulative four hours of sleep. Regardless, I kept cool with an ounce of pure determination, mixed with a dash of stubbornness.
I ended up sleeping through most of the pre-flight delay, as did my children, but it wasn’t until about 30 minutes before landing that panic set in. The flight attendant announced that, because of the delay, we would arrive at 11:00. Looking at the boarding pass for my connecting flight, I realized it was scheduled to take off at 11:02.
Knowing there was no way I would de-plane in time with two children in tow (from the back row of the plane), I gave up and prepared for the worst. However, the flight attendant, overhearing me discuss with the kids that we would miss our connection, announced to the rest of the passengers to let us go first and as such, remain seated until we got by them. She then used her personal Wi-Fi connection to locate our gate, which was in a completely different terminal.
It was going to be close, but for some strange reason, I thought that if this young woman refused to give up, then I shouldn’t give up either. Summoning my last remaining fragment of tattered determination, I decided we would give it a go.
We landed, and the sound of seat belts unlatching and carry-on bags zipping broke the silence. The flight attendant announced one more time for everyone to remain seated and let us off before they turned off the seat belt light. The ding from the light going off might as well have been a starting pistol, though. As soon as we stood up to begin our mad rush, so did everyone else. The other passengers ignored the attendant’s instructions and went about their day, meandering slowly and taking their time to gather bags, put on coats and perform other menial tasks.
We were the last ones off the plane.
I began to feel enraged at seeing this outpouring of selfishness and willful ignorance. My determination to make the connection was growing by the millisecond, though, and as soon as we were out of the gate, the three of us sprinted — or at least, as fast as a 6-year-old’s legs can run.
Reaching the terminal and seeing our gate within grasp, I felt a glimmer of hope, but that hope dissipated when I realized the jetway door was closed, the reader board had been updated to reflect the next flight assigned to the gate (which wasn’t ours) and the seats surrounding the gate were empty.
Two minutes. We missed our bloody flight because of the two minutes we lost because of the selfishness of others. My outrage turned into an outright grown-man-tantrum.
I spotted a ticket agent at the desk in front of our gate, and struggling through gasps to catch my breath, I shouted in his direction, “Excuse me!”
He turned to see me, only to turn around again. The bastard ignored me. “Hey!” I shouted again, breathless and exhausted, “Can you help us?”
“Sorry, but I can’t help you right now,” he responded, turning his back and walking away from the gate.
This was the last straw. My temper boiled over like scalded milk in a pot too small to contain it, and I lost it, shouting angrily, “Well, that’s just f*cking great! How the hell are we supposed to get home now?”
The agent sped up, but turned his head slightly back toward us and in a hurried matter-of-fact manner, replied, “If you missed your flight, go see the automated service counter between gates C2 and C3!”
Automated service counter? First, we miss our flight because of selfish airline passengers, now I’m being ignored by the only customer service employee I can find, and he wants me to use an impersonal computerized system to figure out my predicament for myself? “Stupid piece of sh*t,” I muttered to myself, in reference to the fleeing agent.
That’s when I looked down and to the right. There was my 6-year-old, looking up at me. He wasn’t looking for answers to our problem. He wasn’t looking at me because I was being loud, self-righteous and indignant. He was looking at me because he had never encountered a situation like this before in his young life, and he needed to find a way to deal with it, should it ever happen again.
The problem was, I was giving him a precedent. My childish tirade presented him with a solution to his future conflicts when dealing with difficult situations and even more difficult people.
Long story short, I found the self-service station, and it took me all of 60 seconds to scan our tickets and print out boarding passes to another flight, four hours later than our original departure. We now had the time to eat lunch, relax for a while, and most importantly, to ponder how I was going to reconcile what I had just instilled in my children.
I needed redemption, and it had to be something they would remember.
For the next three hours, I simmered and stewed, allowing my anger to lift like a fog that the sun cuts on a cold, clear winter morning. Contemplate as I might, the best course of action I could come up with was a brief lecture on how it isn’t right to lose your temper with others when it isn’t even their fault, but I knew that a lecture would be likely to go in one ear and out the other. I needed something that would stick.
Roughly 30 minutes before boarding our new flight, that’s when it came to me, and I chose to do something daring, something that I normally wouldn’t have done, and it is something that I will never regret, as long as I live.
I spotted the original ticket agent, who was working the desk at our gate again. I grabbed my son’s hand and said, “Come with me.”
“Why, daddy?” he asked as he looked up from playing a game on my phone.
“Just come with me,” I replied, “I need you to watch and listen.”
He got up, held my hand, and walked with me across the carpet to the desk. There was a line of passengers, and we waited. My heart began thumping against my ribs, and my palms formed a thin film of sweat. When it was our turn, the agent looked up at me and asked, “Can I help you?”
I doubt that he recognized me, or at least, it didn’t seem like he did. I approached the desk with my son’s hand in mine and said:
“Sir, I don’t know if you recognize me, but about three hours ago, I did something inappropriate. I cursed at you because you didn’t help us find a new flight after we missed our connection, and that wasn’t right. I took my frustration out on you and set a poor example for my children. I want to apologize to you and ask your forgiveness.”
He looked stunned. He was speechless for what felt like forever, and just when I was ready to turn and walk away, he spoke:
“I don’t know what to say. I didn’t hear you use any foul language, but I do remember you. At the time, I was trying to locate a medical kit for a woman boarding her plane over at the gate next door, and I was in a rush. I wanted to stop to help you, but I was in a hurry to assist the passenger over there. I’m sorry I didn’t stop to help.”
I became even more ashamed of my actions. I responded, “You have nothing to apologize for, sir. I was in the wrong, and I need to ask forgiveness to right this wrong, but also to show my son that the way I behaved was not right.”
Again, in disbelief, he looked stunned. “It’s OK. I forgive you, and I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your apology. You didn’t need to do this. Quite frankly, nobody ever has, and trust me, we get yelled at a lot in this job. You just made my day, and I thank you for that.” He then extended his hand for a handshake, as he said, “My name is Ron.”
Grabbing his hand, I replied, “Thanks, Ron. I’m Josh. Nice to meet you, and I hope you have a wonderful rest of your day.”
Turning to walk away after giving Ron a smile, I looked down at my son, who was still gripping my hand tightly. He was staring up at me again, but this time, doe-eyed, with the beginnings of a smile. I smiled back at him, tears brimming on my eyelids, and said, “That, my son, is doing the right thing. Always do the right thing, no matter what.”
Five minutes later, Ron called me back to the desk on the PA. After I sat back down, he had looked at the flight manifest and noticed that the three of us were in separate rows, spread out all over the plane. He took the initiative to not only rearrange people to allow us to sit together as a family, but also moved us to seats with additional leg room.
Forgiveness is a gift of love, an act of beauty that benefits not only the person being asked by way of reconciliation, but also the person requesting it, by way of redemption.
Thanks to snow, a delayed flight and the selfishness of others, I had the chance to make things right, to set in motion a lifetime of redemption for my children.
To Ron, the ticket agent at the Delta counter, thank you for giving me another chance.