Sunday, August 11th, 2013


I keep meaning to share this.
I have seen civil behavior in actual practice.
And in an airport crisis of all situations!
Experienced it.
Benefited from it.
Been heartened by it.

I was on the way to my brother’s funeral on very short notice.
It was a Friday.  The service was on Saturday.  I was traveling from Portland Maine to South Bend Indiana.
My travel agent tried to book a prudent flight path given both weather and the impact of sequestration. (Will jump right over that)
My husband and I made it to Detroit Michigan easily enough.

Then all hell oozed loose.  Little by little disintegration began.
One delay posted.  Second delay posted.  Weather.  
End of day approaching.  Anxiety building.
People flooding the agents desk.  No answers.  No hope.  No service.
People competing for information and  for seats on any possible next plane.
I called my sister-in-law to say I probably would not make the service.
Tears all around.
We this great mass of people sat with our irritations and thwarted plans fuming.

It was a gridlock of no information, no authoritative help, not enough resource combined with  competitive fear and moral outrage.

Then something shifted.  It happened at the moment of defeat.
We began to share with one another our specific situations.
One woman just back from Singapore visiting her daughter sick husband at home in little town near South Bend.
A couple heading to give a workshop at Notre Dame. On first thing the next morning.
My need to get to my brother’s funeral.

We began connecting based on common circumstances of geography and need   pointing out people to one another who were in the same boat.

The Singapore lady lived near my brother.
She had the last ticket for the flight that might (or might not) take off.
She wanted to give it to me and my husband would go back to Maine.
We were all making cell phone calls to hotels and loved ones–adapting.

Then I said, “I’m going if I have to take a taxi!”
Bingo.  The Singapore woman, my husband and I decide to rent a car.
Another 6 people going to Notre Dame rented a van.
On and on.  People grouping together to get what they wanted.
Some sharing a taxi for a hotel hunt.

This cooperative problem solving didn’t start until we began to share stories and  until we gave up on any authority or expert helping us.  Hello.  Absorb that.

Off my husband and I and the Singapore Lady trudged taking turns carrying our luggage to the car rental place.  The three of us a triumvirate of jet lag, grief, exhaustion and betrayal by weather and airlines.
It was not until we got on the road to South Bend and were 15 minutes down the road that we introduced ourselves.  And not til we were on the road for an hour that we realized it was going to be a five hour trip.  

We chatted about work, religion, and food.  We stopped for coffee and ice cream.  We stopped for bathroom breaks.  We were on a family vacation in the middle of the night as strangers.  Later we would laugh as everyone we called to share our plan was worried about what we were doing and whether we (meaning all of us) were trustworthy.  

My husband and I were driven up to the door of my sister-in-law’s house at 4 AM in the morning.  She ran out with homemade jam for our guardian angel lady. (Midwest response to any crisis)  We all hugged.  And that was it.  I may find her email address and I may not.

The point is that we were civil and generous with one another–this bunch of 300 or so people.  But not at first.  Not when we thought someone else could help us even if it meant it would hurt someone else.  After all, it was authority.  But when things fell apart and it could have turned Lord of the Flies, it didn’t.  We used restraint and generosity and collaboration and people got where they needed to go.  Not just our group.  We passed people who shared their plans. A van.  A shared hotel room. Camping out in the airport with sleeping bags.  The airline employees had given up long ago and had gone home.  We took care of ourselves.

End of story.
Civil behavior won.
Why not more of this?


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