Here is my column in this month’s Emergency Medicine News

Thank you, American Airlines and Grapevine, Texas, for my delightful, unexpected vacation.  I’m not being sarcastic, I’m being dead serious.  My family had an accidental three day layover in April, 2008 that turned into a great memory.  So I have to say ‘thanks’ to the folks who made it both inevitable and delightful.

Last spring I was traveling with my wife and four children to speak at a medical conference at Focus on the Family, in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  Our first leg, Greenville, SC to Dallas/Fort Worth, was delayed by an hour or so, but finally carried us smoothly above the South at 30,000 feet.  The children read their books, held their back-packs, ate snacks and had visions of snowy mountains breaking through the clouds at the end of the day.

When we landed in Dallas we found our flight delayed.   We ate lunch.  We were delayed again and again.  We ate doughnuts and waited.  (Eating is a time-honored form of solace to Southerners and Baptists!)

At last, our flight to Colorado Springs had gone from delayed to theoretical to simply, finally, canceled.  We then learned that American Airlines, our carrier, had axed hundreds upon hundreds of flights for maintenance checks.  All over the country, untold numbers of people were stuck, stranded, ambushed, caught and captured.  In other words, we were not alone.  Our final destination on April 8, 2008, would not be Colorado, but the blessed Homewood Suites in Grapevine, Texas.

The children, at first surly, were easily comforted with (you guessed it fellow Southerners) food.   You see, as soon as we walked into the hotel, after the hours-long scramble for rooms in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, a very gracious lady in charge of the kitchen asked ‘would your children like some fresh cookies?  I’ll bake some, because the little ones look so tired!’  She did this even as the kitchen was closing.

Once the dust settled, we realized that things could be worse.  We had managed to find a hotel with a shuttle and had been blessed to land in lodging that A) was big enough for our clan, B) was located in walking distance of a vast shopping mall and C) had two televisions, a kitchen and, glory of glories, a swimming pool and basketball court.  If you doubt God’s providence, read that paragraph again in light of the canceled flights…and the four children.

Although I was scheduled to speak twice, once the next morning and once on the coming Saturday, I realized that there was no point in anger or frustration and no reason not to make the most of our time together.  In fact, I had been feeling a little guilty about taking my family to a conference where I would be busy all day, every day.  Those feelings faded away as we laughed in our room, ate carry-out Pop-Eye chicken, swam in the pool, squeezed in a visit to the Rainforest Café, played cards and watched movies.  Granted, we did it all without our luggage, but it was hard to complain.

Every few hours we checked with American Airlines.  And every few hours our flights were changed, then canceled, as before.  I realized from the weary voices on the phone that all over the country, airline reservations clerks, rental-car clerks, hotel clerks, luggage handlers and everyone in between were being belittled and berated.  My wife and I made a point to explain to the children that such verbal attacks were unkind, unnecessary and un-Christian.  We explained to them that life is full of unscheduled interruptions and that we have to be kind and thankful despite all that.

As we made change after change to our itinerary, we learned that thunderstorms and tornadoes were sweeping through Texas, further confounding travel.  We laughed and said our prayers.  We learned that winter storms and a blizzard were expected at our destination in Colorado.  We laughed louder and said our prayers.  And through it all, with no luggage, hotel tooth-brushes, hastily purchased swim-suits and mystery novels, we were all just fine.

Blanche DuBois would have said that we ‘depended on the kindness of strangers.’  We were, indeed, treated with kindness and professionalism by everyone; the American Airlines personnel, the hotel staff who adopted us as refugees; our friends at home and in Colorado who prayed for us and by everyone God put in our path on that trip.

It might have seemed a sweat-soaked nightmare to some folks.  But to the castaway Leaps, it became a cherished memory.  Life is like that.  It’s all in your perspective.

My 13-year-old son helped me to clarify it all.  Early in the trip he saws me smiling and laughing.  I was apparently a little too perky, so he looked at me with his early teen angst and said ‘why are you so happy?’

‘Because, son, we’re together, we have food, water and shelter, and no one is trying to hurt us.  What else do we need?’

And what did we need, after all?  Nothing more than God’s love and protection, our family and a little airline induced vacation.  I can tell you, I’ll never look at layovers the same way again.


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