Sunday, December 19th, was one of the most stressful days my wife and I have had in a long time. As any parent knows, there is no paucity of anxiety when you are raising kids, but this situation was extreme even by parenting standards.
Two of our sons were on their way here to Greece for the holiday season, one from New Jersey and another from England. The one studying at an English university left first, at six in the morning his time, walked to his bus because there was no taxi, and managed to get to Heathrow Airport in plenty of time for his flight only to find out it was canceled due to adverse weather conditions. After cooling his heels for a long time he went to another airport in the London area where he heard there was a flight to Greece, only to find not only that it was full but that buses back to Heathrow were not running because of the snow. After they cleared the roads he finally caught a bus to Heathrow and then went into London to stay with a friend. We were trying all day to help him out by checking conditions online, looking for tickets, and so on, but then the situation began to look grim when his phone began to run out of batteries and we found out that due to antiquated laws concerning working on Sunday here in Greece we were unable to send him the extra money he needed.
My other son successfully flew from Newark to Frankfurt, Germany, but then due to snowfall about half the flights were canceled. His was not, but it was delayed several times and we were all in a state of uncertainty until finally he was able to board and travel onward after a wait of about twelve hours at the airport.
Other travelers were not so fortunate, I know; evidently hundreds of thousands have been affected by this freezing weather all across northern Europe.
When you are going through it these experiences seem traumatic and unendurable, but in aftermath they can morph into adventures. I ought to know; I have been through plenty of extreme situations myself. Once I was turned away at the border of Iran and Turkey because they no longer issued visas at the border. I had hitchhiked there and was almost broke and had to return a day’s travel back into Turkey to get the visa. Something similar happened on another occasion at the border of Pakistan and India; at that time I was absolutely flat broke and had to raise some money in Lahore and then journey halfway across the country to Islamabad. Once my passport was stolen in a remote part of Iran and I had to return to Tehran to get a new one at the American Embassy; you can read about that in the essay “The Lost Poem”. I have any number of other stories of delayed flights and roadside ordeals in inclement weather where no one would pick me up hitchhiking. But you know what? Though sometimes it was very uncomfortable and even dangerous, for me it was always part of the adventure.
The hard part is knowing that someone you love is going through difficulties and being helpless to do much else other than wait. Many times yesterday I wished that I was the one stranded. It’s happened to me before, as I said, and I know what to do. I would gladly have taken their place, if they could only have been delivered safe and sound without all the fuss and bother.
But then – that’s not the point of it all, is it? We all, when it comes right down to it, have to experience some of these things for ourselves. I can tell about it but it’s not the same as actually going through it, and going through it is valuable. There’s nothing like the school of hard knocks.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t apply this to everyone who is stranded this holiday season. My heart especially goes out to families with young children. I have traveled long distances with three or four children at once and I know what it’s like. Alone or with other adults you can relax and eat and drink and read or whatever, but with kids in tow it’s a whole other ball game, as they say – never a dull (or restful) moment.
So if anyone reads this on your laptop while cooling your heels waiting for a flight out, or in between spells of chasing your kids around the crowded terminal, take heart. It will be over sooner or later, and you’ll look back and while sipping coffee or brandy in a warm comfortable place tell the story as an interesting interlude to your children or grandchildren who will most likely eventually have to go through the same thing themselves.