Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Leaving Room for Surprises

Last week, I suddenly went to Dallas.  Courtesy of American Airlines, who were doing their level best to keep me on my flying toes.  I'm not always the world's most comfortable flier, and I really only like good surprises.  So learning that my flight to O'Hare was delayed and I would thus miss my connecting flight to New Orleans, I reported to a young man in a baseball cap who had made the announcement.  He wasn't even at my gate, which had not been staffed, and at boarding time still had no display identifying the flight.  We passengers had assembled at the gate on the basis of the airport's departure board, since our boarding passes were gateless, as we were clueless.  Word of mouth kept us at this unmarked location until the dreaded announcement.

Mr. Baseball Cap confirmed that I was going to miss my connecting flight, and suggested I jump on the flight for which he was boarding passengers, headed to Dallas.  The plane was already warming up and I had a minute to decide.  With hammering heart, I accepted the new boarding passes he was printing up for me and proceeded to the last seat on the plane.  Literally.  Last row, window seat.  Across from the bathroom which would be barfed in early in the two-plus-hours flight and never cleaned.  And next to a grumpy skinhead.

Several hours later, and only three hours after I was supposed to have arrived, I got where I was going.  In the meantime, I tried to relax.  With not much success, until I met a woman waiting for the connecting flight, also delayed.  We exchanged disgruntlement and abbreviated life stories while shuffling between Starbucks, the restroom, and our gate du jour, which kept changing to accommodate the vagaries of flight rescheduling.  We watched each other's luggage.  (Please don't tell anyone that "the interest of aviation safety" was less compelling than our need to close the door to the pre-9-11 bathroom stall unencumbered.)  Eventually, we boarded the plane we were directed to and parted company with wishes for a successfully concluded journey.  I had two seats to myself.  She was a few rows up, and I could hear her taking up with a new friend as the engines revved.

Four days later, I was back in the air.  And miracle of miracles, the boarding passes I printed before leaving my sister's house actually matched American's plans for my day.  Sort of.  In the crush of passengers trying to cram their swollen carry-on bags into the free, if inadequate overhead bins, I distractedly took a seat I thought was mine on the wrong side of the aisle.  By the time the woman assigned to that seat arrived, I had already begun a conversation with the person next to me.  The seat owner was happy to take my seat rather than wait for me to move my stuff, since our departure had been delayed by the carry-on crisis that should by now be predictable.  And I am happy to have come home with a new friend, the man I wasn't supposed to be sitting with.  

The point of all this, in addition to recounting the joys of air travel in the 21st century, is what I re-learned about serendipity on this trip.  My new friend who, except for a few key characteristics, could be the twin I lost track of at birth, offered this Einstein quote in remarking on the fortune of our meeting:  "Coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous."  (And we all know I'm a sucker for an Einstein quote.)  A more secular version is Emma Bull's:  "Coincidence is the word we use when we can't see the levers and pulleys."

But regardless of whether coincidence is really coincidental or in fact directed, I gained new respect for the unplanned--despite holding an underused Master's degree in Urban and Regional Planning.  And I am thinking now about the need to leave some room in my newly rigorous schedule for surprises.  And not just on planes, where I confess I am often in need of distraction and thus perhaps more open to the moment.

In general, I seem to be heading in the "less is more" direction.  Procrastination recovery, at this stage in my process, appears to be more about prioritizing, pacing, and spontaneity.  (I really wanted a third "p" word, but pregnancy, proximity, portion-control, perversity and their alliterative sisters just didn't make it.)  And balance.  (And I flunked the balance beam unit in the commonly named "Basic Bod" requirement in college, when I was assigned to co-occupy my beam with a woman three times my weight!)  

All of this means that "conquering" procrastination doesn't involve indiscriminately doing everything I've been putting off, or being task-focused every minute in order to be "productive."  Like the bread my Grandma taught me to bake, my life needs a general idea of what I'm trying to make and not completely random addition of ingredients.  And it also needs air.  The space for surprises.

No comments:

Post a Comment