40,000 feet

Iím forty thousand feet over the Atlantic. Iím five hours out of Hamburg, Germany, and four hours from Atlanta. Iím past the half way mark, and Iím going home!
But that had not originally been the plan. Today I had been scheduled to participate as an honored guest in festivities associated with the annual gathering of an international hunting dog association. As chairman of the North American Chapter, I had been looking forward to the events for months. Instead, I just want to get home. I am restless and distracted. The minutes pass only one or two at a time as I struggle to avoid glancing at my watch. In desperation I force my head back against the seat and I reflect on the past forty-eight hours:
On Thursday, I had been late for the 7:30 am opening ceremony that started the three-day meeting. The group to which I was assigned had already left on their forty-five minute drive. One of the remaining officials, Mr. Schmidt-Koerby, suggested that if I could wait for about thirty minutes, he would arrange for someone to take me to the group. He was kind, but I knew that it would be an imposition. I was impatient, and embarrassed. If I drove very fast, perhaps I could catch up with them by the time they arrived at their destination and in so doing, save myself some embarrassment.
"This place is difficult to find, even for those who are familiar with this country. Please wait and let one of us take you. It will be just a short while."
"I have a copy of the map, a good sense of direction, and a basic knowledge of German. Iím sure I can find it without problems," I countered. As I sped away, I indulged myself on my strong sense of independence. "I have always been able to take care of myself," I thought, "I really donít need anyoneís help."
But then I got lost! I mean really lost. It was by accident that stumbled onto the meeting place four and one half-hours later. I was thoroughly embarrassed, thoroughly depressed, and my self-confidence was thoroughly shaken. For the next twenty-four hours, I went over and over the questions: "What could I have done differently? Where did I go wrong? Is it really important for me to always be in control? Is the pride that I take in striving to be totally independent really an asset?" I was soon able to challenge the answers to these questions.
Early Friday afternoon I returned to my room to prepare for a series of meetings scheduled that evening. To while away the time, and to relax a bit, I indulged myself in a little TVóCNN. To my horror, I watched the replay of the tapes showing Hurricane Opal slam into the northwest Florida coast and make a bee-line for my hometown 150 miles inland. I needed to call home.
After an hour of trying, by some miracle, I got through to my wife on her cell phone. As a member of our city council, she could give me all the details and it was worse than I could have imagined. Hurricane force winds greater than a hundred miles per hour, and spin off tornadoes had devastated our community. There were injuries and most streets were closed due to fallen trees and downed power lines. On a more personal note, our two elderly mothers were stranded, totally cut off from all means of both access and communication. A fireman had volunteered to walk into the area to make contact with them. They were frightened and disoriented, but unhurt. They had water, some canned food, and would somehow have to make the best of a bad situation for another day or two, but then they would need my help.
In addition, two large trees had crashed down on our house and we had huge gaping holes in our roof. As if that were not enough, there was another storm predicted to hit our area on Sunday. Since everyone was busy with similar problems, no one was available to assist my wife with the details of protecting what we had left. Suddenly, I had to get home!
I called several airports; there was nothing available until Tuesday. My stress level started to climb. I finally found an agent who arranged for me fly out on standby on the ten a.m. flight out of Hamburg the next morning. The agent then stated: "We suggest you arrive by seven-thirty a.m. to ensure no one else will be in front of you. This flight is overbooked, and we cannot guarantee you a place unless you are the first to arrive. I understand this is an emergency, but thatís the best I can do."
Next I called the train station; the last train to Hamburg had left for the evening. The next train would leave at six a.m., but on Saturday no commuter trains are available. I would have to take the train that stopped in every little hamlet. It would take over two hours to get to Hamburg and another hour to get to the airport. With luck I would arrive at nine a.m. I might make the plane, but I would never beat the other stand-bys. It was now late in the day and the rental car places were closed.
Mr. Schmidt-Koerby watched me from across the dining room where I was half-heartedly eating a bowl of soup and trying to figure out what to do next. He knew of the hurricane, and of my need to get home. He came over to speak. "Have you been able to get a plane ticket to leave tomorrow? Can you get to the airport on time? Is there anything that I can do to help?" I thanked him for his concern, I told him briefly of my plight, and expressed my appreciation for the offer of assistance. "There is not much anyone can do to help unless you know of another train that will get me to the airport before seven-thirty a.m."
"You have responsibilities this evening, and meetings to attend. You will have much more to do if you will leave in the morning," he said. "You should concern yourself with what you can do. Please allow me to take away your concern about getting to the airport. I will see that you get there in time, you will not have to think of it again." I raised my hand to protest, and to thank him just the same, then I stopped. His look was one of concern and sincerity. His offer seemed genuine. He really wanted to help. I decided to take a hint from the past few days. Besides, I really had no alternative, and in that moment, as unnatural as it seemed, I heard myself respond: "That is really very kind of you, and I will take you up on your offer."
"Then it is settled, getting you to the airport is now my concern. I will pick you up at six a.m. You will be at the airport at seven-thirty, and I will arrive back here just in time for my meeting! Do you think you can be ready?"
In that moment, and for the first time since I could remember, I was flooded with a sense of relief. Even my responsibilities for the evening were carried out very well and without distraction.
"It is not a Maserati," he said as I climbed into his little car early the next morning. "They donít make a diesel engine for the Maserati. You see, I work for a diesel fuel and home heating oil company, and I want to be loyal to the company, so I drive a car powered by diesel fuel. But donít worry, you can think of this car as a 'fuel oil' Maserati. It will get us there in plenty of time."
As I walked away from the ticket counter with my ticket in hand, I heard someone say to the ticket agent, "You were holding a ticket for someone. I was told that if it had not been picked up by 7:30, that I could have that ticket. Iíd sure like to visit my girl friend in the states this week end."
"It has been picked up," I said under my breath.
Mr. Schmidt-Koerby winked at me and said "Thanks to my fuel oil Maserati". 
"Yes, and to you also, Mr. Schmidt-Koerby,, please accept my most sincere thank you, both for the ride, AND for the lesson!" In that moment, as I gazed into his eyes, I realized that in accepting his gift of assistance I had somehow given a gift back to him-- although I was at a loss to explain how or why.
So now, finally, God has found a way to teach me about interdependence, and its "value added" benefits to all concerned. At fifty-two years of age, I have taken another growth step. Now, I can admit that I sometimes need help, and I can accept it gratefully and without guilt when it is offered. This new feeling has a strange and alien quality about it, but even now, forty thousand feet over the Atlantic, I can tell that it is "right".

JDG 1995

 

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