Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Saved by Golf AND....

Wow...that is certainly true.
My spiritual director once warned me: "don't pray for patience....you'll get it."

I knew what she meant. In order to become patient, we are put through trials and tribulations that will test us. Remaining calm, optimistic, kind and considerate during tough times yields this virtue. We've heard it once and a thousand times: "patience is a virtue." And any ethicist will tell you that one acquires this virtue through practice. And I think nothing puts me through that practice—that test, trial and tribulation—more than air travel.

I should have left the South Bend Regional Airport early Saturday morning. When the inbound flight from Chicago was unable to land due to the lake effect snow storm, I knew I was in for a delay. I had no idea how long that might be.

The next flight to Chicago was scheduled for 5:30 pm that evening. Over the course of the nine hours I waited in the airport, I came to learn that other travel options to Chicago were compromised. The United Limo busses were not running and all rental cars were taken. It's a good thing—the Indiana toll roads closed as accidents began to pile up. Scary.

I still can't believe we got out...
I looked outside the windows and couldn't see much of anything. I can't remember the last time I referred to a "white out" in a non-sports context. I kept reminding myself that safety is what is most important, but, I was also very anxious to get home to a place that was having record temperatures and sunny skies.

At 5:15 pm we boarded the "puddle jumper" plane. When the cabin door finally closed, everyone breathed a sigh of relief. I should add that you could see everyone's breath too. How? Why? There was no heat inside the cabin. At this point, I was only hoping we would push back and leave South Bend before the wind and snow resumed its fury any further. 

After waiting and wondering for over 20 minutes the steward made an announcement. One engine wasn't working, which is why we were sitting in an icebox. The mechanics were doing their best to remedy the situation. They would keep us informed. 

At this point, I am slightly delirious. I had graded all the papers that needed to be graded, I couldn't find anything of interest from my inbox, I tried listening to a podcast of James Martin commenting on his book—Jesus: A Pilgrimage (how ironic, no?) and even pulled up some Key & Peele sketches hoping for any chance of laughter. Nothing was working. I put my head against the seat in front of me and let it stay there. I knew I looked pathetic. If air travel and I entered the ring, I knew I had been beaten.

I did however find a moment of comic relief; thanks be to God. After sitting on the tarmac for 40 minutes, the airline offered us complimentary soft drinks. It was so cold in the cabin, certainly Coke, Diet Coke or 7-Up could not have been on ice, but overall I was fairly miserable. I've also heard that misery loves company; I think it's true.

Grateful for the change in temps and these friends to play with...
I shared but a few words with the man sitting next to me, but I was fairly plugged in and tuned out. After we heard that the flight would go after they de-iced it, I turned to him and said "I just hope I make my next flight. I have a 9:45 tee time tomorrow." He said, "you play golf?" I said, "I do and tomorrow's also my birthday. Playing golf is exactly what I hope to do on my birthday." He understood.

We started talking about where I would be playing and with whom. He shared that his bucket list includes just walking the grounds at Augusta National. Mine too. I revealed that I love nothing more than a great final round of one of the Majors. Things started to warm up as we recalled the PGA Championship at Vihalia or the play-off at the Masters between Adam Scott and Angel Cabrera or the year before as Bubba Watson unleashed his gap wedge for a hook shot out of the bark. I asked him if he had a favorite professional golfer. He said he did—her name is Lydia Ko. I tried not to gasp or look completely shocked. 

A young female golfer of Korean descent born and raised in New Zealand, Lydia Ko is the quite honestly the last name I expected to hear. "Her fundamentals are so solid. She never comes out of her shoes. I admire how poised she is during the game and in victory. She continues to move the ball toward the pin with such precision and accuracy. Watching her has helped my game enormously."

My students will learn about this story, because I teach about Ko in my Sports and Spirituality course. The LPGA was declining in revenue and popularity and new leadership under Michael Kwan turned that around. Young golfers like Ko provide a fresh face to a niche sport. I will now point out that so does her following!

After this exchange, the man looked as me and said "it is SO nice to talk to someone who loves golf like I do." I hadn't felt an ounce of joy all day. The ice that formed around it had thawed.
Unfortunately, I never found out this kind gentleman's name. If you were to look at the two of us, we wouldn't have much in common. In his late 50s, this African American gentleman from Baltimore, MD looked like he was a running back in his youth. I came to find out he excelled in the "big three sports" and once thought that golf was only for retired folks. I hail from California and like to think I'm still in my late 30s. In spite of our apparent differences, we share a common love for a sport that is physically and mentally taxing. 

And even more important than our love for golf is the simplest of facts: we share a common humanity. I was searching high and low for some respite from my frustration. I had chocolate covered almonds, text messages from friends, intellectual stimulation, even humor on demand--thank you YouTube. In spite of all of my tools and distractions, the very thing that "saved" me was sitting next to me. It was another human being...going through what I was...feeling what I was feeling....and it was only in each other's company and a shared passion that the 35 degrees in the plane, the 12 hour delay and cramped quarters meant, well, absolutely nothing to me. 

I speak of the Incarnation quite often and that's because it's at the very core of my faith. God showed up. God became one of us. The Incarnation is Christ Jesus.  And Jesus was tested. Jesus got frustrated, Jesus needed patience. I have a feeling that he too gained it through the trials and tribulations and most likely the only thing that makes all of that messiness worth it, is what we can find in one another. 

Photo Credits

White out

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