Like last Tuesday, my Green Tip for this week also carries a life lesson, though this one is a bit more involved. I was supposed to fly back to Japan on Saturday, but due to fog and the gods of Air Traffic Control I missed my flight to Narita, which is only a once a day occurrence. That meant I was stuck for 24 hours and would have to miss work on Monday – not an ideal situation. After an hour or so of wanting to mope, I decided I needed to turn things around to make the next 23 much better. I made friends with a woman in the same situation and we decided to share a hotel room and spent a pleasant evening getting to know each other and exploring a bit of Chicago. I also decided to be happy and make lists of what I was grateful for whenever I started to get frumpy about my situation. On the way to our discounted but not complementary hotel room (we got the “distressed passenger rate” ha!), I was rankled that we weren’t put somewhere nearer to the airport, so I started to make a list.
1. I was thankful there was a free shuttle to the hotel and that I was sitting down.
2. Thankful I had a water bottle and could stay hydrated.
3. Thankful I had a travel companion so I wasn’t stuck alone.
4. Thankful I was relatively safe, warm, healthy, and not hungry.
5. Thankful that all a bad day included for me was a missed flight and not something more serious.
It was a simple list but the simple things keep you grounded. I think the reason I wanted to feel sorry for myself was because I had no control over my situation, plus I was a little sad leaving my family. I like to take the initiative always, so lack of control was a hard thing for me to accept, even though I could understand that you can’t hold a plane full of hundreds of people, in a lineup of hundreds of take-offs, for five more minutes. So the only thing we can control is our response to our emotions and situations we find ourselves in. When you are moping about, you deny yourself the chance to find new opportunities. (I think the same applies to food and dietary restrictions.) Our out-of-the-way hotel gave us a ride to the commuter train and I got to have a whole new way to see Chicago and explore Union Station and State Street. I also had a chance to show my new friend some old favorites and we both agreed that we might not have had such a good time had we been alone and unwilling to reach out to someone in a similar situation.
The following morning I started to get a little sad that I would have to use a vacation day for missing work, taking away one day from a trip home I had planned this summer, but then I did some yoga. There again I chose to make the best out of every possible moment, since I had planned to hit the fitness center but realized I had no luggage and no extra clothes. When I am feeling upset or out of sorts I like to exercise so I can clear out crappy feelings or self-pitying cycles and make room for new, positive inspirations. Doing yoga that morning is when I let go of all the little injustices and decided to make what could be a crappy day into the best day yet. My inspiration? Random Acts of Kindness: Airport Version. After all, who could benefit more from an act of kindness than a stressed-out, travel-worn person in an artificial, indoor, almost-trapped environment?
I had gotten a belated Christmas present of $25 from one of my relatives, and I decided to put it to good use. My first act was the best. After ordering some iced tea from a haggardly overworked and unhappy-looking barista, I put a few extra dollars into the tip jar and asked her to do me a favor. I told her to take $10 from my change and use it on the next person in line, putting the rest into the tip jar. The look of astonishment on her face, and then a softening of the stress lines into a smile, told me that I had just turned her day around – and the act of kindness hadn’t even happened! The best part was that she was transformed not as the direct beneficiary of it but simply by being party to it. And the look she gave me not only transformed her outlook on the day, but filled me with such happiness and gratitude that it instantly negated all the junk I had been dealing with in my own little issue.
Then I bought some mini chocolate bars to hand out as well as a card. I wrote inside “You are special and appreciated. THANK YOU for being wonderful!” and I addressed it anonymously and tucked it away in a busy corner of the airport for someone to find. I thanked two elderly police officers for their service and smiled at as many frazzled travelers as I could. Whenever another frustration popped up I just responded with kindness. Flight delayed? Helped a lady with heavy baggage. Lost paperwork? Left some spare change next to a pay phone (they’re still important, especially when you don’t have an American cell phone or can’t afford one). Found out my gluten-free meal request didn’t transfer over to my new flight? Handed out another chocolate bar and got a nice handshake in return. Stuck on the tarmac for two hours? Wrote a draft for a blog post. I just kept being kind and all the crappiness and stress rolled right off my shoulders.
In dealing with less than ideal situations, I took control of my emotions with gratitude, because it is hard to be grateful and unhappy at the same time. Then I took control over my circumstances the only way I could: by making others feel happy. And in the process, I felt phenomenal. In O’Hare Airport people – not known as a place to host many great days.
So how does carrying your own containers fit into all of this? Well first, it is an act of kindness to the environment. Part of having food allergies is planning ahead so you’re not stuck in a jam later, but also learning to live without the heaviness or anxiety over where your next meal might come from (and the control issue pops up again). Even before I followed a special diet, I brought containers of my own food through airport security because it was cheaper and it tasted better. Here is the lunch I had packed at the outset of my trip on Saturday – much better than airport snacks or mainstream airport grub from God knows where full of God knows what.
And any reusable container cuts down on landfill waste, especially during the act of flying, which has a large carbon footprint. I always carry my empty water bottle through security and fill it up (they now have special fountains!) to avoid buying overpriced bottled water.
You can also bring your own takeout containers to restaurants to use for leftovers. Many green-minded businesses encourage this more and more, and I know from my mom’s experience that if you are a regular customer owners are happy to accommodate you. If neither of these is the case – you can still ask! It won’t hurt a thing to try. You can also split entrees to avoid food waste or simply create a restaurant ambiance at home and dine in. Then you definitely have control over what you eat.
And what happened to the remaining kindness money? I used it to buy myself a salad before I got on the plane, since I didn’t know if I would be able to eat any of the on-board meals. Sometimes you need to compromise when you can’t plan ahead or you’re at the end of a very long road with not many choices left. And you often have to show yourself some kindness in order to continue helping others. (In fact, I have a whole new list of acts to accomplish in the next week and next few months. I may even get a plan together to do one every day!)
You also have to concentrate on each moment, being thankful for the time we are given and making the most out of every opportunity. When I was sprinting through terminal K trying to make my original Tokyo flight, I looked like an idiot. I was trying to run with two bags and my pants were also a little loose. So I was balancing a bag in one hand and clutching my pants in a desperate attempt to keep them up, fully aware of how foolish I looked and wishing for once that my pants were tighter. And I thought, man, someday when I am not so bitter about it, this is going to make a great story. I didn’t know “someday” would be the next day, and I have to thank you for that. It didn’t feel very funny at the time, but I knew I could turn the whole situation into a positive story to share with you all here. So thank you for reading and helping me create a space of inspiration, gratitude, kindness, good food, and earthly communal living.