Sunday, June 9, 3:15 p.m., Chicago O’Hare International Airport
I am at the counter of Gate G18 just before Flight 4306 boards to go to Hartford, Conn. I’m on standby. I ask the agent what the situation is.
All but two passengers have checked in. I am first on the standby list at the moment, he tells me. But those passengers could appear at the last minute. There’s nothing I can do but wait, calmly, trusting that, one way or another, I will get where I’m going.
Christy from Seattle, whom I have known for less than two hours, kept an eye on my bags while I asked. I kept an eye on hers while she recharged her phone. We connected here because she saw a photo on Facebook captioned with my day’s itinerary: “Little Rock – Chicago – Hartford – South Hadley – Glen East, here I come.”
It’s a deceptively relaxed scene, bags at rest, legs crossed, coffee in hand, reading material on lap. Another caption could have been, “I’m on standby to fly to Chicago because I’ve done something I’ve never done before and hope never to do again: missed my flight.”
I’m embarrassed and ashamed that I inconvenienced the friend who drove me to the airport by making her wait while I finished gathering my things. I am furious at myself for, once again, leaving a little bit of packing until the morning. I am sheepish that I wasted a few minutes looking for the driver’s license that was already in my back pocket. But that is all in the past. Now, besides living with uncertainty about flights, I am mourning the loss of my vision for the day, which was to arrive early, settle into my room quickly, and then hang out in the arrival area and greet friends as they appear, a sort of hugging-diva ad hoc welcoming committee. Because this is how it turned out last year, and it was fun, and I want to repeat it. But trying to repeat the remembered goodness of a past day at a week as individual as the Glen is to thwart the unexpected goodness of the one at hand.
I am trying to get to where my people are.
“I am an idiot, look what I’ve done” messages go out to friends Jenni in Houston, whom I met at the Glen in 2010 and roomed with in 2012; Tara in Colorado Springs, whom I met at the Glen ’09; and Laura from Sewanee, Tenn., whom I’ve shared Glens ’09, ’10 and ’12 with, who will be in my class this year and has already arrived. They reassure me, you’re not an idiot, you’ll make it, all shall be well. They pray for me.
I also message Susan in Denver, a travel agent whom I’ve had maybe a few minutes of conversation with though we’ve been to the Glen in Santa Fe three or four times together. One Friday in January while I was back home for the first round of my father’s treatment for lung cancer, she found and booked me a discounted flight to go see him again the following week. She and I will message throughout the day, and the greatest gift she gives me is in helping me know what questions to ask and more fully interpreting what the agents are telling me. She is a life preserver, helping me stay above water.
Recalibrating. One flight at a time. I’ll make it today. Or, worst-case scenario, tomorrow. Post a hopeful photo that focuses on destination. Get quiet. Wait.
I got from Little Rock to Chicago, with a standby ticket on a 12:45 flight to Hartford, from which I had a reservation to take a shuttle to the campus of Mt. Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass., for the Glen East, a writing and arts workshop/retreat also known as my big-person summer camp. Someone from Seattle whom I’ve never met, but have many friends in common with, had seen and commented on the photo and told me her flight number. It’s the 3:45 flight. If all goes well, I’ll be landing in Hartford when she takes off, I tell her in private message.
But the two empty seats on the 12:45 flight have filled up, and it leaves without me. And the 3:45 is full. They can put me on a later flight to Boston, and I can figure out a way to get from there to Hartford. I get a courtesy hold on that flight, just in case, but make sure I’m still on the standby list for the 3:45.
I will miss the Glen’s first night welcome and opening remarks, when we all gather in one room for the first time. I might miss the evening reception. I’m ready for a small meltdown. The travel agent is offline. But the Seattlite is in the airport somewhere.
We make arrangements to meet at a food court. We move from text to phone call and each describe what we’re wearing. She finds me, we hug, and we visit. After she’s mentioned her husband a few times, I ask, “How did you meet?” Not far into the story — a surprise meeting at Top Pot Donuts, where he happened to come by when she was meeting someone else they both knew — a grin cracks my face wide, because I have heard this marvelous story before from the point of view of Jeff in Seattle, the friend she did go there to meet.
The flight is called. If I don’t get on the plane and have to fly to Boston, she promises, she will gather my fuchsia suitcase from the Hartford airport, where it arrived on the flight I missed. She waits until the very last minute to board, and gets permission from the agent to stand witness and see whether I get on too.
There are two names on the standby list, neither one of them mine. There are two passengers who haven’t arrived. There is a Jamaican woman with a toddler on her hip, desperate but not quite frantic, ready to board the plane. The standby names are theirs. Then one of the missing passengers comes running, checks in, boards. The ticket agent looks at the mother, says, “There’s one seat on this plane, and you can’t hold him on your lap all the way.”
In that moment, I know it means I will make this flight. I feel weak-kneed by grace, reprieve, mercy. I feel terrible for her. As she pleads her case, the agent slides a boarding pass across the counter to me; the witness at the gate beams, and we board together.
When we arrive, the taxi she was going to take is now $25 more than they told her it would be when she called to make a reservation. But the shuttle I’m on, which she didn’t know about, is cheaper than the original taxi, and — a quick call confirms — there are seats available.
Also boarding the shuttle is Katherine from Chicago, who was also on the flight with us. We discover some commonalities, including having all written for the same online publication, which I learned about from the Brooklyn, N.Y., friend (Glens ’10, ’12) who edited it.
8:15 p.m., Mount Holyoke
Arrive. Receive welcome packet from campus security building. Get key. Find room. Dump luggage. Catch your breath and almost cry to see that a poem has been left with the linens. Go downstairs and head for the voices.
The party has begun. And when this prodigal walks in, I am gathered in with hug after hug. “You made it!” say people I have not communicated with today. There’s Denise from Massachusetts, whom I spent maybe 10 minutes with last year, but many minutes and words with in correspondence with since then; Terry from Memphis (Glen ’12); who hosted me in her home last year for another Glen friend’s daughter’s wedding; Rebecca from Edmonton, Alberta (Glens ’08, ’12), whose good cheer sustains me throughout the year in emails and the occasional Skype; Ken from South Bend (Glen ’12), who writes exquisitely about the spirituality of geography and geology. Sewanee Laura tells me she had planned to go gather me in Boston if that’s where I had to fly.
All day I’ve been held in the hearts and prayers of friends here and far, of five years’ or half a day’s acquaintance. Returning their glad welcoming hugs, and beholding their longed-for faces, feels like arriving in heaven’s waiting room.
Welcome to the Glen.