A few hours before my early morning flight (read: at about midnight) I got a call from said best friend, saying that she wouldn't be able to pick me up because she was going into labor. So, I called the other friend and moved up our plans. "Instead of meeting me at 6PM, do you mind picking me up at the airport at 9AM? I'll need to go to the hospital," I requested. He agreed, and the plans were thereby reset. "I'm going to be there for my best friend's labor!" I told him, excited.
When I got to the airport, I checked into my flight and was told I would be given a seat at the gate by an agent. I was a little worried but not overly concerned. After all, they'd let me check in, right? I proceeded through security and continued on to the gate. I heard a passenger standing nearby scream loudly, already irate, which further concerned me, though that concern dissipated when they began boarding. The roller coaster of emotion continued again and I prepared myself for the worst when it quickly became clear that there were a great many of us -- 14, to be exact -- without seats onboard the flight.
The announcement came but moments later: the airline had overbooked us. The 14 of us were thereby told, one by one, that getting out of town before Christmas wasn't going to happen. This included a soldier who needed to report for duty and an elderly woman we were all worried about, but the agents didn't care. Our travel woes weren't their fault, and our holiday plans weren't their problem. This wasn't right, I told myself, and it certainly wasn't fair -- the airlines had overbooked the flight so as to make more money, just in case some people bailed. But I was focused primarily on myself. How was I going to get home for Christmas? And what was going to happen to my luggage?
In a daring -- and, dare I say, ridiculous -- move, I asked the woman about my age standing next to me, upon overhearing that she was going to drive, if I could catch a ride. It is normally a 9-hour drive, but this was the Saturday before Christmas. The roads were sure to be a mess. Why on earth would she agree to let me accompany her on a ridiculously long drive? Wasn't I asking her if she wanted to play a part in the younger, female version of Planes, Trains & Automobiles?
For reasons I will never understand, she agreed, seemingly wholeheartedly. And we made that drive together, heading steadily south and making conversation for what turned out to be almost 13 hours. I missed my best friend's delivery (which turned out to be complicated), had to change plans once again with same friend who would serve as my transportation, and arrived at my final destination around 1AM, about 24 hours after I started. But there was beauty to be found in this madness -- a silver lining, as it were -- that I almost missed for focusing on the clouds overhead: I had found a wonderful new friend.
And we've been friends ever since.
This morning I got an email from her, telling me about her difficult summer, which makes mine look ridiculously easy and luxurious by comparison: she is in the Air Force, stationed in Iraq, in the desert. And she is a very feminine woman, so I can't imagine how difficult the transition has been. It is, after all, already difficult for hardened men. But she is in good spirits. She told me that "everything has its beauty," it's just that "not everyone can see it." And she shared with me pictures of her time there, complete with astounding images of the handful of flowers that she has discovered in the middle of the excessive heat and dirt that is the desert. And she said this: "Grow where you are planted."
If her encouragement -- to find beauty where no one thought it existed and to grow where I am planted -- isn't reason enough to take stock and give thanks, the story of our friendship is (#82). I'm truly humbled by her presence in my life, and I'm ever so grateful to have been overbooked on the flight that led me to her.