These weeks are my busiest of the year, even busier than Christmas. Three weeks ago was the last week of classes. One could see students standing straighter as the load of assignments lifted, and teachers bowing over as the same load descended. Two weeks ago I was marking at full speed, while also taking in the faculty retreat. This week were the doctor of ministry modules. I direct the programme, so although I did not teach, I was still on call throughout. The last paper is now finished; the modules are over. Two more weeks of classes in Global Studies (which I am responsible for arranging) lie ahead, but the heaviest times lie behind.
This is the context, then, for last Sunday. Just before 11 pm the phone rang: one of our incoming doctoral students was stranded at the airport. I started calling around, trying to find out what had happened, and finally got in touch with the student himself. Albert's flight from Calgary had been cancelled. He had been put on a flight from Vancouver which stopped over in Calgary, and arrived about 45 minutes late. Meanwhile the student who was to pick him up arrived at the airport, found no evidence of a flight from Calgary, and after waiting an extra half hour, he went back to Providence.
All this we figured out later. At 11:25 all I could do was put on some clothes, get in the car, and drive to the airport. I met Albert at 12:30 am, brought him back to our house (quicker than stopping by the school) by 1:30, and then went to bed. Of course the adrenalin was flowing, and I went to sleep rather later than that. Sometimes you can't just "go to sleep".
The next morning Albert and I were up on schedule and off for the day at Providence. What I notice about the whole thing is how little trouble it actually is to respond to surprise events. I was tired; but doctors in emergency rooms would smile at the thought of so little. Truck drivers regularly deal with harder schedules. To lose sleep one night is less than new parents experience every night -- and forget remarkably quickly as their children get older.
Instead I notice how I had a good chance to be with Albert, and appreciate his genuine interest in what is happening in my life and at the school. We had a brief chance to talk about some research he hopes to do. In all, it was a serendipitous event, good to find oneself in, rather than an imposition or hardship.
There are of course lessons for how to handle airport pickups: provide the person being picked up with a number to call (a cell on the pick up person would work well) to give any changes of plans when they happen. But more important is the goodness of the events we experience. My sister asked recently what lessons others have taught us. I remember this from my mother: good and bad things happen all the time and you can't help that; but you can decide how you will respond to what happens. That personal choice usually matters more than anything. I wish I could always remember that.