I’m Late! I’m Late! I’m Positively Late!
Written by Aziza founder, Laila Ghattas
Enroute to the California Heart and Soul Care Retreat in October 2010, I had an unexpected experience that was both overtly stressful and utterly liberating.
One of the retreat participants was taking the same flights and we traveled together through the Las Angeles airport to the connecting flight to San Luis Obispo.
My kitchen renovation had begun the week before with much disruption caused by demolition of walls, floor and cabinetry. Of course there were surprises behind the rubble that were costly. My cats were very upset with the noise and strangers in the house all day and one stopped eating as he hid all day long. I had to create barricades in the house for the work to continue in my absence. The reno had been pushed back to start from end of summer to the week after Thanksgiving, the week before the California retreat, causing high levels of stress in the combination of the undoing of the house, shopping for building materials, and preparing for the retreat, including processing last minute registrations.
I was exhausted when I boarded the early morning flight from Toronto to LA. I was looking forward to the spa session I’d pre booked to enjoy shortly after arriving at the resort, and anticipating an early quiet night before the retreat began the following morning. That was my self-care plan to balance out the turmoil and demands of the previous week.
I’d already cleared security and was waiting for my client to get her boarding pass for this segment. After finally getting to her turn for security screening, my client sent the alarms ringing. We only had a few minutes to catch our connecting flight. She was delayed again going through a second time and I became confused as to the problem and prolonged process.
When the alarms went off a second time and she was sent back to the line ( I later heard with the advice to take off all her jewelry to avoid a strip search), I decided I’d run to the loo and catch her on her way through.
As I passed the flight boards I saw a delayed notice on the SLO flight. I relaxed about her getting through in time to board, believing we had 15 minutes to spare. I returned to the security area and saw no signs of her and wondered if she’d been taken away perhaps for a more thorough search. I walked to the gate, around the hallways, and back again to security, with no signs of her. A little voice in my head said, “You should be taking care of yourself and getting on the plane. She’s an adult and can take care of herself.” But I also was torn feeling I shouldn’t abandon her to a potential security complication. So I continued to look with no luck.
A few moments later I reluctantly gave up and as I went to board my plane was confused that I didn’t see my destination on the Gate posting. I asked the attendant about boarding this delayed flight, and she told me the flight had its last boarding call a few moments before, had just closed the gates and was about to leave. The pilot had been given the paperwork- whatever that meant. I commented about the delayed notice. She advised me the incoming flight was delayed, not outgoing. They had been paging my name which I did not hear, as my client hurried to board. Since the paperwork had been given to the pilot, policy was that there was NO CHANCE I’d be on that flight.
I could feel the blood leave my face and a strange kind of out of body sensation seeped in as I held this impossible information at arms length. I told her I HAD to be on that plane, I was working and HAD to get there. She repeated the information about the procedure being firm- once the pilot is given the paperwork, no new passengers can be boarded. I started to beg her to stop the plane and let me on it. She repeated herself. And so did I.
As she considered her computer screen she added that the next flight, and in fact all the other flights that day, had been overbooked (this was a small 30 seat transit plane). It was highly unlikely I’d get there that day!
I begged her even more emphatically to find a way to let me on the plane, sinking more and more into a surreal state of exhausted shock at this turn of events.
She correctly assessed the impasse of our situation and told me she’d get her supervisor to explain the policy to me.
The supervisor calmly moved me to another desk and explained again why they couldn’t do anything to get me on the flight that was probably already on the runway. I kept telling her, I HAVE to get there. I’m working. I have clients coming. I HAVE to get there today.
She checked the upcoming flights and confirmed they were full and overbooked. She then tried nearby airports and other connections, all fully booked. She was silently shaking her head as she continued creative options to solve my problem on her screen.
I started to cry quietly, tears running down my cheeks horrified at the thought that I’d have to spend the night at the airport in this state of exhaustion and fly in the next morning just in time to begin facilitating the retreat. It was unthinkable to face a group of women seeking my guidance and leadership in such a state of compromised energy and focus.
Then something very strange happened. A part of me that was calmly observing my reaction and the proceedings came forward in my awareness and reminded me of a simple fact: this is not what my life looks like. My life works out. Always has, no matter what.
The scenario of being stuck sleepless at the airport overnight and beginning a week long retreat in such a compromised way, that vision simply did not match my life as I know it. I could feel the complete and utter incongruity of this situation with my life experience and increasing awareness of my needs always somehow being met.
I then remembered to ask for Divine help: a short simple request for this seemingly impossible situation to be sorted out so that I could get to my destination, rest properly and be ready to work the next day.
I was now reconnected with my awareness of the pattern of success in my history and was able to find the beginnings of a calmer expectation that things would work out even though there was no evidence in sight. In the infinite moments that passed my patience felt sublime in a kind of bubble away from the ways of the world. Just wait and see. I stopped resisting the moment and the situation and just stood still and watched from a more open, less panic stricken frame of mind.
What happened next still moves me each time I recall it. The supervisor said “I think I have a solution for you. I’m going to bump someone from the next flight which takes off in 2 hours and put them on another flight, refund them $420 for their trouble, and give you that seat. “
Relief filled every part of my being. I was incredulous that she was able and willing to do that for me. Gratitude and wonder poured through me. My thanks to the supervisor was humble and earnest as I shook her hand.
A part of me wondered if that was fair, that someone else should be inconvenienced on my behalf. However my philosophy has always been that my gain, what is truly correct for me, cannot come at a price from you. What is correct for me, when you are involved in something with me, must also be correct for you. I imagined that the $420 payment United Airlines was willing to give the bumped person might feel like a ‘ nick of time’ Divine gift too, just as a seat on that plane felt to me. Just as the seat I’d left vacant on the original flight I missed went to someone waiting on standby who needed to be there on time more than I did. I still believe this now.
As I waited for my flight, writing in my journal while munching some lunch, I realized I was actually glad the whole thing happened. I was glad I had an opportunity to look at what was, see it as incongruous with the way I live, decide there had to be a solution to meet my needs, and open myself up to it unfolding, no matter what was going on in that moment and how impossible it looked. That expectation born in the midst of the impossible was a beacon of light.
Because I was unable to connect to the airport internet I searched for my cell phone to call the resort with the intention of canceling my spa session and reassure my client that I’m booked on the next plane. For some reason my phone had been on, and my battery spent. During the 45 seconds of battery left I was able to reach another client already at the resort and in the nick of time catch her just as she was walking out the door heading to the spa. Had I succeeded in connecting with the internet and sent an email, the information would not have been communicated in time.
Many times I’ve used the memory of this experience to calm me, to help me focus on a positive outcome despite immediate evidence to the contrary. I was grateful for the opportunity to evolve my trust to a higher level.
I was encouraged to see how far I’d come in applying all I’d been learning these years, from Eckhardt Tolle, from the Balinese Holy people who counsel me each winter, from my travels, from my own spiritual journey, from my retreats, all my willingness to grow and learn seemed to sparkle brightly on this point of unhesitating awareness and profound integration. My life works out.
There was also an important professional lesson for me about keeping my boundaries more firmly in place, being clear with myself on where exactly my professional responsibilities begin and end. My intuition told me to go to the plane and look after my need to get to the resort while walking around trying to care take my missing client. She caught the plane and I missed it thinking I was looking after her! This was a very misguided decision based more on some “should” about being supportive in an unfamiliar situation like this. I used this lesson effectively throughout the retreat as circumstances tested my boundaries.
My life continued to work out. I was somewhat comforted to know they bumped and reimbursed 3 people on our flight to compensate for excessive luggage weight.
I was challenged to use this clarity when as we were ready to board. The airline announced severe weather conditions in our destination area that likely made it impossible for our plane to land and would then have to be rerouted to another airport!!!! I was amazed at this turn of events in the face of the miracle of my seat on this plane, so I focused on my life working out. When we were seated and buckled up the pilot calmly reassured us we'd be landing at our destination.
The man who sat beside me and with whom I only exchanged conversation at the end of the flight, volunteered that he was driving right past my hotel and in the case that there weren’t any taxi’s present at the tiny airport, he's be happy to give me a lift.
When my luggage wasn’t there waiting for me from the previous flight and the airport staff knew nothing about it, he used his cell phone and contacts in the area to find the number for the hotel. It was quickly established that my client took my luggage with her to the resort. There were no taxi’s and as I happily climbed into his rental car I gratefully recognized this evidence that I can indeed trust that my life works out.
Henry Ford said, “If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right.” In other words we continually find evidence for whatever we believe to be true. We compulsively seek to confirm and find proof to support our perspective. I chose and continue to choose to believe that my life works out. Bill Moyers speaks of “invisible helping hands” that I believe support me (and anyone else) when I am following my bliss in a committed way.
Each day I welcome and enjoy collecting the blossoms of evidence that supports this preferred paradigm.
Laila Ghattas 05/11
Photos by Laila Ghattas on location during California Retreat.