Best Laid Plans
I’d taken the nine-seat Cape Air flight from Boston to Provincetown numerous times. Last Thursday, I was to be on the 6:30 flight. The cancellation email at noon took me by surprise. It was a bright, sunny day. I was concentrating on my work so had not seen or heard a weather report. A quick call ascertained there was room on the two-thirty flight. The woman I spoke with was helpful, upbeat, and friendly. I had the same experience at check-in. What a great airline, I thought. These people are a breath of fresh air after all the post-election negativity. When I got a text message and a follow-up call to be sure I had arrangements to replace the canceled flight, I was impressed.
At the gate, it turned out that winds in Provincetown were so high that the plane could not land there. Weather conditions that had forced cancellation of the later flight had arrived ahead of schedule. We were offered a chance to fly to Hyannis ahead of the storm, which would leave us just under 50 miles from home. My fellow passengers greeted the news with surprising calm.
You may be saying, So what? Those people were doing their job, and what else could the passengers do? I felt it was something more than that. It seemed people were more cordial than I recalled, but I chalked it up to the usual professionalism of this spunky little airline. Bear with me. It gets better.
I had someone who could pick me up in Hyannis and offered to take a couple of people back with us. We filed out into the bitter cold and boarded the plane. Then something magical happened. People began to smile and speak, joking and asking questions of the pilot. Once airborne, we could see a wall of clouds and lake-effect snow just off shore from Provincetown. Yet, where we flew was cloudless and bright.
The plane dropped. It felt like I was on a roller coaster. People laughed and teased each other. The woman ahead of me (you can see her hand clutching the seatback) seemed to grow nervous when the plane took a sudden, violent dip to the left. I chided her saying, “People pay good money for rides like this.” She laughed. The gentleman across from her joined the conversation. I realized we were both tending to her—creating distractions to keep her focused on something besides fear. The plane tilted violently. The man behind me said, “We’re going down.” The pilot turned and said, “The plane can take it. Can you?” Everyone laughed again. We’d be OK.
We flew parallel to the nasty weather, and I marveled at one of the most glorious skies I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t help thinking as I looked at the wall of storm just off shore that this was a metaphor for America at this moment in our history. Just off the coast, due to land on January 20th, is frightening storm of bigotry and hatred that could destroy everything we know and hold dear. I wondered if we could somehow skirt that storm as our little plane was doing.
After a well-executed landing, the pilot was duly applauded, and the woman across from me said, “And now, having survived this, I shall go out in the world spreading goodwill.” Someone else said, “If you kiss the ground when you get off the plane, you’ll embarrass us all.”
You may still be thinking, So what? It’s just a flight to Provincetown. People are different there. I saw it as an example of people taking risks with each other, being just a bit more friendly and open with their fears. But I did figure it was mostly a “Provincetown thing”. . . until the ride home.
The gentleman who rode with us impressed me with his intelligence and perceptions. We covered a multitude of topics, but I was particularly taken with the fact that he’d opened a business in a city that had never really recovered from race riots in the sixties. He stated with pride that some of his employees were working for the first time in thirty years and spoke of an elderly woman, once homeless, who now had a home and could now afford to buy her granddaughter a brand-new school uniform. “That’s what it’s all about,” he said, in a quiet tone that conveyed gratitude for the opportunity to give as opposed to the recent bluster we’ve heard of corporation’s rights to take.
We spoke of the camaraderie on the plane. He’d noticed it as well. I mentioned I was just back from South Beach, where I’d found people to be more outgoing, more interested, and more focused beyond themselves. (Anyone who knows South Beach will agree that is a sea change if ever there were one.) He agreed immediately, saying that he’d found people in New York and other cities to be surprisingly warm. He also told me that many people he’d met were commenting on the fact. “It’s as if we are all fearful of the same thing, and realize without each other we have nothing,” he said.
And then it hit me. Our little race from Boston to Hyannis WAS a metaphor—and a revelation. Facing the approaching storm, we changed course, banded together, cared for each other, and found our way to safety. This is the solution I’ve been searching for. I understand how to manipulate the narcissism of “he who shall not be named.” (I use this term because you can’t get your ego stroked if no one says your name.) I just wasn’t quite sure of the antidote. Now I am.
I am going to commit to this plan of action, and I ask you to consider doing so as well and sharing it. Raise your eyes from the smartphone and look around. Take a chance and talk to someone you don’t know. You may just find they are anxious and reflecting on things just as you are. Listen with full attention. Break out of the echo chamber and have dialogue. Speak of your concerns for the future. Learn what others are doing and join them. Be kind to those who think differently. It may change their point of view (and if it doesn’t it will piss them off, so it’s a win-win).
Together, we can survive this.
As for the storm? It passed. They always do.