Some days, things just don’t turn out the way you expected.
Yesterday I was heading for a day of meetings in Melbourne. It happens every couple of months, and as usual I booked the early morning flight across, and an evening flight home again.
At 6.15am, the normal boarding time for my flight, airline staff announced that Melbourne airport was fog-bound and we’d be delaying the flight a little while. At about 7am they got us up and moving and on-board. Unfortunately in the 45 minutes that had passed, fog had drifted in over Launceston airport as well.
We ran up and down the runway a couple of times, and the movement of air must have caused the fog to lift or dissipate just enough….so at about 7.30 we took off, on a 50 minute flight to the north island.
30 minutes into that flight, somewhere over Bass Strait the pilot announced that Melbourne was still fog-bound, so we’d be circling for a while until it cleared. Nearly an hour later nothing had changed in Melbourne, but the fog had descended over Launceston again. We were stuck in the middle, unable to go forward, unable to return. And presumably without enough fuel to keep circling until something changed.
So we went sideways, heading west to land at Adelaide a little after 10am. Definitely not what I had planned for the day. People on board the plane reacted differently. Some were anxious, others confused, some unfussed, and others angry at this unexpected detour and delay.
Isn’t that just the way things go sometimes? We set out on a journey, a path, seeking an opportunity, having a plan, expecting a particular outcome…..only to be run over by circumstances and end up somewhere quite unexpected?
Lots of people I’ve encountered when we talk about the need for change (particularly in the church) say “we’re ready for change, just tell us what we’ll be changing too”. One of the challenges of this time in our culture is that we’re deep into what the experts called “discontinuous change” – a time when things are changing so much and so rapidly, that its difficult to see what comes next.
How do we build within our communities the capacity to set out on a journey, to chart a course of change, but to be able to cope with the fact that things might go wrong along the way? That we might find ourselves stuck in the middle, unable to go forward, but not able to return? Ready for the possibility that we might have to turn sideways (and end up in Adelaide)?
Flexibility, resilience and creativity would seem to me to be the key. Building those characteristics into a community perhaps one of the most important tasks of our day.
I landed in Adelaide resigned to a pointless and boring day of sitting around airports – knowing that by the time I eventually reached Melbourne I would miss my meetings and be once more sitting idly, waiting for my evening flight back to Launceston. Then as I stood in the queue to pass through airport security I was tapped on the shoulder by a friend I don’t see very often, stuck in the same situation as me.
Somewhere over the next hour or so, as we sat in a coffee shop in Adelaide airport, we had the opportunity for an unplanned but important conversation we otherwise would not have had….and I remembered that old saying about clouds and silver linings.
Perhaps the unexpected is not such a bad outcome after all.
Perhaps it’s the unplanned detours that give life its colour and texture
Thanks for this reflection Scott. I’ve learned that when things don’t work out there is often a new opportunity. When a flight is cancelled or postponed I get curious as to who I’m going to be sitting next to in the next flight. I also, like you, think about the liminal sphere, the in between places, in which we have a chance to reflect from a new and unexpected perspective.
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