I sat on the side of the bed and wept.
It wasn’t the first time this week, but it was certainly the longest and ugliest.
I’d taken a short flight from my home airport for a week’s on-ground assignment for work. As we drove to the airport, I could see the fog ahead. By the time we got there, we were socked in pretty solid. I said good-bye to my beloved and went in. I saw a woman who had been in one of my residency classes a year or so prior; she was in a long line of passengers, waiting to go up the stairs and through security. I breezed through the pre-check line and went to my gate to find the flight had been delayed by about an hour.
For a few minutes I fumed: I usually took an earlier flight but had opted for a mid-morning departure instead to have a bit more time at home before being gone for six days.
The airport was very crowded and noisy, not like it is for the first flights or even the ones one or two hours earlier.
I got over my irritation, remembering that whenever I change routine — or whenever it’s changed for me — there’s a bigger reason.
A woman asked if the seat next to me was open; I said yes and she sat. A few moments later, the woman who’d been sitting two seats over rushed back. ‘I was saving that seat for my husband,’ she said.
‘I’m so sorry — I didn’t know.’ Because she hadn’t spoken before that and had basically turned her back on me.
‘Well, I guess we can’t save seats at the airport,’ she replied.
The woman who’d sat between us struck up a conversation with me. She had a job interview at the airport we were flying to. She asked me if the destination city was home for me and I told her I was going there for work. As I explained what I do, the other woman seemed to get more uncomfortable as she ear-hustled into our conversation.
The job-seeker woman and I then turned our talk to faith: I told her I would pray for her success, that if this opportunity was for her that all would go well. We parted with ‘God bless you’ and boarded our flight. I joked with the flight staff as I got on the plane: ‘Standing room only?’
There were people coughing and sniffling the whole time; I am not a fan of the flying tube and squished into my window seat, praying to nap so the germs wouldn’t see me. I had my eyes closed and slept a bit but could hear the young, athletic guys behind me chatting occasionally. The one kept remarking that his ‘phone was blowing up’ — I guess he’d paid for the in-flight wi-fi and was getting text messages. It was a bumpy flight, likely because of all that fog and because the pilot was doing his best to get us back on schedule after the delayed take-off. We arrived 10 minutes late, so it seems he put the petal to the metal.
Our landing was less than stellar: we hit the ground so hard that about three people screamed. We were safe, but it was a moment:
On the way off the plane, I said to the same flight staff person, ‘I guess that’s what I get for having jokes about standing room only.’ We laughed, grateful to … be.
When I got to the hotel, it was too early to check in so I waited in the lobby, chatting with colleagues and new students who were there for residency. I messaged and called folks to let them know I’d arrived and how the flight had been.
And then I read about the helicopter crash that had killed nine people. Basketball player Mr. Bryant and his daughter, Gianna; Mr. Altobelli, his wife Keri, and daughter Alyssa; Ms. Chester and her daughter, Peyton; Ms. Mauser; and Mr. Zobayan.
As I was joking with flight staff, these souls were lost.
I’ve read and watched several reports about the accident. My dad was killed in a fatal accident so as the day went on, it hit me harder as I thought of Mr. Bryant’s wife, other children, mother … Philadelphia and the surrounding area … and all the family members and friends who were closest.
I wept at the thought of that moment when those babies were afraid and their parents likely tried to comfort them. The moment of recognition that there isn’t more time. I’d wept at various times over the past 25 years, thinking of what that moment might have been like for my dad. What it was like for my mom and for me as those left behind.
But today, I wept for a different reason.
They will pull on you.
I heard my colleague’s voice in my head, saying that.
… the things that keep you up at night …
I remembered a leader I’d worked for several years back who used to preface our twice a year team meetings with those words; he’d then describe the state of the university, but it’s become something I think about when I wake up at 1am with thoughts of the students or faculty I serve on my mind.
They will pull on you.
And I wept, because that’s what we are here for.
I am grateful to wake up in the darkest hour with thoughts of these new students on my mind. It’s a quiet time for my Creator to speak to me about their needs, to hopefully impart to me what I need to give to them. Yes, they will pull on us, their faculty, because they know we’ve pulled on others and received what they had for us.
I am grateful for my doctoral chairperson, Dr. Szabi Ishtai-Zee. I hear his booming voice and hear his words come out of my mouth as I work with students: I have a book for you about that …
I am grateful for the students I see at these on-ground opportunities, especially those who are back — not for my class but for their second one: that means they persevered and continued in the program. It’s hard not to step out of humility and into haughtiness when those second-year students rush over for a hug and to say how appreciative they are of ‘what I did for them’ when they were in my class.
But I try.
Because it’s not about me. It’s about their journey and what I can give them when they pull on me.
I hope they don’t stop.