Gentle Answers

Living God's LoveGentle Answers

By Becky De Oliveira
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
—Proverbs 15:1
Earlier this year, before the pandemic, I was booked on a flight featuring a connection. Not being a novice traveler, I should have expected something to go wrong—and normally I try to be pretty chill about delays. “The right thing happens,” I tell myself sagely, nose half tucked behind the pages of a book, disinterestedly observing other passengers rage at the airline personnel. But, in this case, I was highly invested in a particular outcome—namely, that I would arrive in Denver in time to sprint all the way to long-term parking, retrieve my car, floor it to Greeley, slide into my seat in the back row for my 11:00 a.m. class, then eat a quick standing-up lunch and run up four flights of stairs to my 12:30 class. Like an Olympic athlete, I visualized the various steps; everything would have to go just right for me to make it on time. No room for error.
So naturally, error began to appear. The night before, the first leg of my flight was delayed by two hours, but it looked like I would still make my connecting flight. So not the end of the world; just a tighter connection. I could feel my heart rate increase a little, but I calmed myself. I would make it. I could even sleep in, get to the airport a little later. I booked my Lyft and went to bed. Next morning, even though the Lyft driver was five minutes late and I began to hyperventilate, we made it to the airport with plenty of time to get through security (no line). I even had time to pull out my laptop at a little café not far from my gate. As boarding time approached, however, I began to get nervous. There was no one at the gate. No plane. No way we were taking off in 25 minutes. I had to make a series of phone calls to find out what was going on: the incoming flight was delayed, consequently my flight was delayed, consequently I would miss my connection and had already been booked on a new flight. I absorbed the news that I would miss my first class with great frustration, but I felt comforted in the knowledge that I only had to make a new plan and I’d surely arrive just in time for the second class. I did the math and was pretty confident I could get there in time. My connection was a little tight—30 minutes or so—but I knew the airport well and again envisioned myself running from one gate to another and dragging my roller behind me. It would be fine.
Then the plane sat in a queue on the runway for what seemed an eternity. I kept checking my watch, telling myself we’d make up the time in the air. We didn’t. By the time we landed, I had 15 minutes to get to my gate. The flight attendant assured me she’d call, tell them I was on my way, and ask them to hold the plane. By the time I was off the plane, I had 8 minutes to get to my gate. In spite of my best efforts, it took me 10. (I thought about knocking over a couple of elderly people and a toddler on the escalator and decided against it. Half kidding.) The plane was still on the runway, still attached to the accordion door, but the staff would not let me board.
I became upset. I begged. I raged (a little). I fumed (a lot). All to no avail. That flight took off without me, and I got on the next one. I missed my entire day at the university. And in hindsight, who cares? I offer a giant existential shrug. This was a minor inconvenience. I am the one who made it major, through deciding that it was. Missing that day of class affected my life, as far as I can tell, not at all. I did well in those classes; I passed my comprehensive exams this summer. Missing that day did not derail my educational or career plans at all. So why did I think it was OK to be—let’s face it—rude to airline employees for failing to accommodate my wishes?
I could offer excuses—I was tired, I was stressed, we all have bad days—but I’ve never been the kind of person hoping for a good excuse. I’d rather behave better in the first place. I’ve been observing the attitudes and behaviors of people around me in response to the pandemic these past six months and, I’ll tell you, it’s not pretty. There is, of course, the much-publicized violence and rage directed at retail workers over masks, which I have not observed personally. But I was contacted this week to consult on an email for parents of first-year university students by an employee anxious to avoid an outpouring of fury from parents upset that their children are homesick. I have heard from pastor friends about church members ripping them to shreds over their actions the past few months. And I wonder if we couldn’t all take a deep breath and try to be better than this. Yes, we’re disappointed, maybe even grieving. No, this isn’t the way we envisioned our lives. But it is an opportunity to further develop qualities we all know are important: resilience, patience, gentleness, kindness.
We made mistakes and we try again. I’m vowing to never freak out over a change to my schedule ever again. Who knows whether I will be faithful to that vow? But if I fail, I’ll try again.
Becky De Oliveira is a doctoral student in research methods working on special projects for the Pacific Union Conference from her home in Colorado.

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