Sunday, January 09, 2022

The Strangest Trip

The older we get, the more we travel, it seems like. Or, the more we travel together. Paul no longer takes trips to Mexico by himself to visit missionaries, and I no longer drop everything to fly to Minnesota to take care of my parents.

Now, we fly together to weddings and funerals. We take in weekend courses, visit family, and attend conferences.

De-icing the planes in Chicago

Paul approaches his travel responsibilities eagerly, his mind spinning with plans and schedules. He loves to find the cheapest tickets, the best rental cars, and the most efficient routes. If he can, he prints that Southwest boarding pass 23 hours and 59 minutes before our flight, grinning with satisfaction if he manages to get us A seating.

Leading up to a trip, unlike Paul, I am never in a very cheerful state of mind. There are so many decisions to make and so many things to remember that I feel overwhelmed. Outfits for travel and events. Inhalers and vitamins. Plenty of pens. Who's going to get the mail and feed the chickens? What will the weather be like there? Will this sweater go with more than one skirt?

If I have book events scheduled, the planning and preparations double in intensity.

Also, inevitably, my introversion manifests itself the last day or two, and I just want to stay home and drink tea.

For Paul, the last day of preparation simply means that almost all the planning is done and it's time to plan the next thing. And the next. 

Last November, I was frantically getting ready to go across the mountains for four days, where not only would we attend Allison the niece's wedding, but our family would get together in a rental house for Thanksgiving dinner. Two daughters were flying in, I was sewing a new silvery-gray dress, and Phoebe the daughter-in-law and I were planning all the food.

Paul, meanwhile, was doing his own preparations, his brain spinning with possibilities and plans. At one point, he showed up where I was working and said, "So, do you think we should leave on a Wednesday or a Thursday?"

I yanked my brain from the list before me and looked at him. "What??"

"When we go to REACH. What day would you like to fly?"

REACH is a conference in Pennsylvania. In March. I raised my voice more than was required with his hearing aids and exclaimed, "I AM TRYING TO PLAN THE FOOD FOR THIS TRIP AND YOU ARE EXPECTING ME TO THINK THREE TRIPS AHEAD???!!"

He acted just a bit chagrined.

As I said, Paul is always eager and excited about trips and enjoys the preparations. No matter how happy the purpose of the trip, I always find it a huge undertaking and always have an impulse to stay home.

Paul has been working for Open Hands, an organization that teaches people to form savings groups. We were asked to attend the Open Hands staff retreat in Pennsylvania last week, from Tuesday to Thursday.

As trips go, it wasn't that huge an undertaking. No weddings, speaking engagements, or book sales. No meals to plan.

We decided to expand the trip and visit the daughters in Virginia after the retreat. 

It all sounded doable and fun, until it didn't. I had a sense of dread about it that I couldn't shake or define.

Five attendees had to cancel because they got Covid. Our daughter Emily, who is doing photography work for Open Hands, got sick for over a week. Although she tested negative, she would be unable to drive to Pennsylvania for the retreat.

After hearing that Covid was rampaging in Virginia, we decided to cancel that half of the trip, but the sense of dread didn't leave.

I mentioned my misgivings to Paul, expecting him to say that this is what I always feel and yet it always works out ok. Instead, he said he felt he should go, but I could stay home if I wanted.

Bless him. But that didn't seem like the right thing to do, either.

So I made sure we had cat food on hand, printed the retreat schedule, and got the big suitcase from the attic, all with a firm conviction that not only were we not supposed to go, but we weren't going to go. I didn't ask the church ladies to pray for us like I usually do, because I didn't want to explain when we stayed home. And I didn't contact two friends in Pennsylvania that I had hoped to see, because I didn't want to cancel our plans when we ended up not going.

What does one do with such feelings? I looked in the mirror and had a conversation with myself. "Mrs. Smucker. Is this just your introversion talking?"

"No. This is something else."

"So, should you stay home?"

"No, you can't stay home on a weird feeling, and I don't think I should send Paul by himself."

All right then. I prayed that if my intuition was accurate, then God would send a logical sign to make it obvious, like our flights getting canceled. And I kept moving forward with our plans. 

We got up at 4 a.m. on Monday, tucked in our phone cords, poured coffee, and headed for Portland. All went well, and we flew to Chicago. 

I thought, "Ok, God. So much for my intuition. I guess we were supposed to go. Thanks for working it out." 

To his credit, Paul never said, "I told you so."

We had four hours in Chicago before our late-afternoon flight to Baltimore.

An announcement came over the intercom. They badly needed passengers on the Baltimore flight to volunteer to get bumped. We would get a $600 voucher per ticket, a night at a motel nearby, and a flight to Baltimore at 6:30 a.m.

Getting bumped gives Paul even more satisfaction than getting an A seat on the boarding pass. We consulted quickly and hurried over to stand in line, still discussing plans. We'd arrive at 9 a.m., plenty of time to get to the retreat by 1 pm.

"Do you still need volunteers?" Paul asked when it was finally our turn.

"Yes. Oh, thank you." The woman printed our vouchers and a motel pass. Then she printed vouchers refunding our tickets, then she said, "Oh that's not very much," and gave us each a bonus voucher.

We took a shuttle to the motel and our very nice suite, where we ordered in Panda Express via GrubHub like real city folks. We had pretty much everything we needed in our carryon bags. Our luggage had gone on to Baltimore without us.

The next morning we got up at 4:00 and caught the shuttle to the airport. 

Our flight to Baltimore was canceled.

They rebooked us for the following morning, Wednesday the 5th. 

Ok then. Paul called the motel. They said we could come back to the same room. So we did, sleeping all morning before connecting with the retreat via Zoom all afternoon.

Southwest emailed us another $250 voucher. I'm not sure why.

We tried walking to a restaurant for dinner, not having a vehicle to use, but it was bitterly cold and snowy, and Paul hadn't brought a hat or gloves. So we ordered dinner again.

Later that evening we got an email telling us our Wednesday morning flight to Baltimore was canceled, but they graciously rebooked us for Wednesday evening.

That meant that we could get in on the last four hours of the retreat, on Thursday morning, before heading home, if we did more driving than sleeping.  And, hopefully, we could get our luggage.

I looked out at the bleak gray Chicago landscape, dreary with freeways and factory steam blowing sideways. "I just want to go home."

Paul checked online. The flights to Portland were all booked full, all day Wednesday. So he called, and was put on hold for hours.

I washed clothes in the bathtub and hung them on hangers to dry, then went to bed.

I was awakened by Paul saying, "But my car is in Portland. I don't want to go to Eugene."

I leaped out of bed, yanked open the bedroom door, and hissed, "No! Let's go to Eugene! I just want to go home! We can go get your car whenever!"

Paul said, "Oh, wait. My wife says Eugene is fine."

I went back to bed.

Wednesday morning we dressed in clean clothes that thankfully had dried overnight, got on the shuttle at 8:20, and flew without incident to Las Vegas and then Eugene. Phoebe picked us up. The next day Ben took Paul to Portland to get his car.

I am happy to be home, where the tea is hot, the couches are comfortable, and the cats are happy to see me. Yesterday Southwest sent us a refund for the second night in the motel and all the food we ordered in. We still don't have our luggage, but FedEx is supposed to deliver it tomorrow.

I am also analyzing my strange intuitions about the trip. My mom used to tell, ominously, of people she knew who had had "premonitions" before they died. I admit these had the same heavy tone of Mom's description of a premonition, except I never had the sense we would die. Or maybe it was more like what she called a burden--"Ach, ich hap usht so'n burden..." I just have such a burden...

My main takeaway is that I don't need to figure things out or persuade anyone of anything. All I had to do was keep moving forward; the Holy Spirit did the rest. Our path was made clear by the exact sign I had prayed for--canceled flights--and also by something Paul would be persuaded by: getting bumped.

We are small autumn leaves caught up in winds much larger than ourselves. Even if we have glimpses and senses and feelings, the outcome isn't ours to control. It's best--as they tell you on Southwest Airlines--to sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight.

With our oddly generous fistful of vouchers, we'll have plenty of opportunity to fly in the coming year--hopefully without incident or prophetic intuitions.