It was supposed to be the best weekend ever. That was before the onslaught of hurricane-force winds, several inches of rain and assorted mayhem, followed by more delays, plus exhaustion. But I'm getting ahead of the story.
I've always had a hard time doing what's called "living in the moment." Experts say this indicates a too-busy task list, a "Type A" personality and maybe a little Attention Deficit Disorder thrown in. Of course I should know better, especially when considering the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:34…
"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."
In other words, Chill out, relax, enjoy this. Find something special in the chaos right now.
Recently I had the opportunity to go to New York City for a whirlwind weekend trip, taking part in a welcome-home event for some American heroes. Legendary astronaut friends Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell and Gene Cernan were set to return from a support-the-troops tour in the Middle East. They donated their time and took risks to encourage our men and women in uniform. I was honored to help with some of the public relations for the project.
It was all planned for weeks. I'd fly in very late Friday night, get out to the airport Saturday to meet the guys, do some radio interviews with the men on the special bus heading to a big rally at the USS Intrepid museum. Then it was out early Sunday on a flight home. Lots of activity, little sleep, but a great plan.
Then the storm intensified. A call around noon Saturday advised me that the astronauts' plane from London was coming in early. I had to hustle, and the weather was worsening. But it was possible to get to JFK airport, even in the monsoon.
Bolting out the front door of the hotel to the only cab in sight, I jumped in and joked "You'll get a big tip if you get to JFK … fast!"
The 20-something young man from Morocco turned to me with a slightly frightened look saying, "I don't know. This is my first day. I've only been in Manhattan and haven't gone to the airport."
Seeing no other options and weather from "The Wizard of Oz" outside, I said, "No problem. It'll be fun ... an adventure!"
That's when he added, "You're my 13th fare today." Thirteen? At least he didn't say "666." I had a feeling where this was going.
He did point out he had a GPS system, which proved useless.
As we slogged through the streets, the driver also talked (in Arabic) to a buddy on his cell phone. I assumed that was in order to get more perfect directions. I was wrong.
Soon we were on Mr. Taxi's Wild Ride. Even I knew he was missing exits, and so did the New Yorkers who were hand-signaling and cussing in their cars as my guy got more stressed and drove erratically. Guardian angels were working overtime.
Meanwhile, I was on my cell phone with a new friend, Willie the Bus Driver, who was at Kennedy awaiting the celebrities, ready to drive them in the big parade to the event. Willie kept assuring me that the plane was getting more delayed, so despite my clueless taxi situation, there would be no problem connecting.
A full hour and a half later, the cab pulled up to the airport, right behind Willie's motor coach and some New York cops who also were part of the entourage.
More time passed as flight delays were extended. Then suddenly what no one wanted to hear: The plane was not able to land, due to whopping 74 mph winds. It was diverted … to Boston. All the plans, shot. 2,500 people waiting on the Intrepid, disappointed. My weekend worthless.
Or was it?
Right then it was like God whispered, "Think about it. Reflect on what's happened, and how there's been calm in the midst of the storm."
Stuff that matters
A wasted weekend? Not at all.
I thought about how the taxi trip ended, when the embarrassed Muslim driver expected me to erupt like Mount Vesuvius. I thought he'd try to overcharge me, but instead insisted on only the usual flat fee of $45 to JFK. I gave him a $20 tip and said I was sorry for forcing him through scary moments he wasn't ready to handle. For added measure, I told him "GOD bless you." I was careful not to say "Allah," for added impact. A smile came across his face.
I had the hours chatting with Willie and the cops, about loved ones, history and heroes.
The thoughts kept coming. I recalled the woman next to me on the plane to NYC who shared about her struggles with an ex-husband over child custody. That led to a discussion of daily challenges and faith.
There was the dinner meeting with a network news friend who just "happened" to be in town and could fill the void on my now very open schedule. It was quite productive, but especially because we had a chance to talk deeply about family, friends and time. Life stuff, the things that matter most.
Icing on the cake
The capper was this: On the flight back to San Diego a little girl took the seat next to me. I was reading, thinking about the circumstances, when she struck up a chat. She was 11 years old and, after visiting her Dad in another city, was now heading back home to Mom. They had been separated for some time. She was the same age as I was when my parents divorced. That opened up even more conversation and a chance to talk about loving Mom and Dad unconditionally. Encouragement for a child in a confusing situation.
It became crystal clear to me. The reason I thought I was on the trip may not have been why it happened at all. What if it was really about those people I met on the way, seemingly "coincidental" paths crossing … as I finally learned to "live in the moment."
Larson is a veteran Southern California radio/television personality and media consultant. He can be heard daily in San Diego on KCBQ 1170AM from 7 to 9 a.m., and on KPRZ 1210AM from 2 to 3:30 p.m. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published, April 2010