Sunday, April 10, 2016

MOP Extra--Letter from Harrisburg on the Crazy Trip


Speaking assignment gets a stern test

I should have seen it coming, because any inspirational speaker knows that you will be brutally tested ahead of time on whatever subject you’re assigned.

As I prepared to speak at a Mennonite women’s retreat in Ohio, I didn’t catch on. I only thought, “Wow. This is a lot of weird obstacles in my way.”

Three weeks before the retreat, my aging laptop computer with all my notes crashed and died, refusing to respond even to my techie son and husband.

However, in our office was a book-sized device intended to keep the household’s computers backed up. Our son Matt had set it up for us, and I wasn’t sure it was still doing its job in his absence.

I clicked around on the desktop computer, found the file, and there it was — all my work, up to date. What a relief.

Next came a few days at the coast, writing like mad on my tiny Netbook. While I was gone, my husband mentioned his plan to run an efficiency-increaser program on the home desktop computer.

OK, I said.

Two days later, I came home with the worst sore throat ever, razor blades shredding my swollen tonsils. Soon, it was a full-blown case of strep throat.

The retreat, with its 350 women waiting for inspiration, was only a week away. I emailed Mrs. Wengerd from the retreat committee, asking for prayer.

When I recovered enough to work again, I found that the password to the backup had disappeared when Paul ran the cleaner-upper program, and I had no idea what it was.

Desperately, I typed in former and current email and Amazon passwords, and suddenly one worked.

Crisis averted.

A month before the retreat, I had contacted the publisher of my first three books and ordered 60 copies of each to be sent ahead.

Five days before the retreat, they still hadn’t arrived. I contacted the publisher again. They had forgotten to send them.

Paul, being less busy than he used to be, decided to go with me on this trip via a buy-one-get-one special.

He went to park in the long-term lot at the Portland airport while I went through security. Then, while I waited, he sent me a text. His driver’s license was missing from his wallet.

I am not proud of my reaction of panic, fear and too much imagination. Who goes to the airport without double-checking their license? This isn’t like him — maybe he’s getting dementia and is headed for that happy, oblivious state where people are healthy and strong but have to be watched every minute or they’ll wander downtown in their pajamas.

Paul got through security on his Costco card.

We were among the last ones on the plane. Toward the back, I saw an empty aisle seat and grabbed it before I noticed that the man beside me was very large.

The plane took off, and my seat mate fell asleep and gradually expanded, like a balloon, until his shoulder overlapped mine by three inches. His arm edged over the armrest and far into my territory as I folded myself into the remaining two-thirds of the seat.

I let down my tray table and let it rest on the Sleeping Giant’s arm. Then, hoping to get some work done, I placed my notebook on the tray, dug for a pen and panicked again.

My handful of carefully collected pens was still at home, lying on my desk. I had one pen. ONE! How would I make it? I have to have at least three pens or I feel shaky and scared. Would they have pens in Ohio?

Calm down, I told myself. At least I have this one.

I pulled the cap off the pen and it dripped ominous plops of black ink on my notebook, having exploded from the pressure changes of flying.

I sat with Paul on the flight from Las Vegas to Canton-Akron, near the front of the plane, still a bit jittery, wondering what would happen next.

About halfway through the flight, a silvery gray cat came walking up the aisle. The flight attendant turned, took one pop-eyed look, and shrieked, “Whose cat is this?!”

An embarrassed woman hurried up the aisle and snatched up the cat, muttering about letting him out of his carrier.

I thought, “Did that just happen?”

It must have, because the flight attendant kept talking. “Just when you thought this flight was going to be boring, he just came calmly walking up the aisle.”

I laughed and laughed.

Surely the tide had turned, from frustrating to simply bizarre.

At Canton-Akron, we got our luggage and walked out of the terminal well after midnight. Paul had made a reservation at a nearby hotel with shuttle service. He called them.

“Your reservation was for two nights ago,” they said. “Tonight we’re filled up.”

Never in 30 years had he done something like this. Dementia was at his door, I knew it, and despair was at mine.

Paul called the Hilton. They had a room and sent a van to get us.

The next day, I tracked down the book order. They’re sending 180 books, in one box, weighing 24 pounds, the website said, which I knew was impossible since each book weighs half a pound.

Eventually we arrived at the Amish hub of Berlin, Ohio, and booked in at the Grande Hotel, where I turned into a tourist, gushing about bonnets, buggies and dark billowing dresses.

The books arrived hours before the retreat. They had sent 60 each of two titles and only 12 of the third.

My talk went well, the retreat was refreshing, and after an eventful weekend, we flew home.  This time, Paul had his passport, which our daughter had sent via overnight mail.  At the airport, I went to baggage claim while Paul took the shuttle to long-term parking.

He got into the car and looked down, and there was his driver’s license, slipped between the seat and the center console.

Two hours later, we were safe at home. Paul was his capable self again; I let go of my fears.

The material is only a small percentage of reality, I am sure of that. If you speak out on a subject, unseen forces will test your authenticity.

Later, as I reflected on the strange events of this trip and its preparation, I finally made the connection.

Of course.

The title of the retreat was “Joy in the Journey.”

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