This past Friday morning, I couldn’t figure out why people were bundled up in Steelers hats and Packers scarves on our 6:30 am flight. Then I remembered: this was Super Bowl weekend. The plane was bound for Dallas where we would change planes for Phoenix. And then I remembered this: the Super Bowl was being held in Dallas. It was a festive flight with friendly rivalries and every one was in a great mood. Time flew and suddenly it was time to land; we looked out the window and were very surprised to see Dallas covered with snow. We cheerfully waved good-bye to the couple who had won an all expenses paid trip to the Super Bowl in the Virginia lottery.
It didn’t take us long to figure out our morning flight to Phoenix was canceled. That was just one of over seven hundred flights that would be canceled before we left that night. We were put on stand-by, so… we stood by.
We took our place in the long line of the hopeful, all wearing matching expressions of expectation—would we be picked for the flight? A toddler wandered over to us as his mother searched the diaper bag. He took our hands and we walked Justin back over to his mother. Their names had been called. It was a lottery of our own and one that we didn’t win. We were told we would be put on the next flight to Phoenix.
At concourse A, I watched the Egypt story unfold on CNN. I watched as an Egyptian family gathered in front of the screen. I looked at their faces, expecting to see terror in the risk. I saw joy in the hope for change.
I sat down next to a woman named Katherine. Her husband’s college buddies were descending on their house in Dallas for the Super Bowl and she was getting out of town with her first baby–four weeks old. She had made sure the plane was there and ready to leave before she got out of the car to fly to Phoenix to visit her parents, but she hadn’t thought to ask if there was a crew. Nor had we. They were short a flight attendant. We all waited. Together.
Eventually, a flight attendant was found and we were able to board the plane. The captain came on and said that several marines aboard the flight were on their way home from Iraq. He said he was proud of them and that he too had been a marine. He asked that we give them a round of applause. I clapped for them and thought of the times that my own son had been coming home from Iraq as a marine. At the end of the flight I saw the captain shaking the hand of the marine who’d been sitting in front of us. I overheard him say, “Go home and enjoy your family.”
The next morning in Phoenix we met our new little nephew for the first time. Then we drove across the desert to the Grand Canyon. When we got there in the afternoon, my husband and I hiked out to a point to watch the sunset’s majestic work on rock faces. My mind reached for words, but there was only one: big. After dinner, before we went to bed, we stood on our porch and stared up at the sky. The constellations and scattered specks of light flickered against the vast black night. Big.
Yesterday morning we woke before dawn and watched the first pink jagged streak of the sunlight break into day across the canyon. Big.
Anonymous has left a trail of words behind her that appear like jet stream in the sky right when a moment is too big for your own words. My mind tried to make out the words… what were they? Moments. Life. Breath.
This weekend has been about bigness: bigness in winning tickets, new babies, hope. I saw bigness in the landscape: Canyons. Desert. Sky. I saw bigness in a narrative sweep of story that enfolds all of us: the Super Bowl, snowstorms, change, homecomings, family, beauty. Throughout the weekend, I’ve seen bigness shaken out in tiny moments.
Ah there it is….
“Life is not measured in the breaths you take, life is measured in the moments that take your breath away.” Anonymous
It is what I learn again and again. Stay awake. Pay attention. Let life take your breath away. And this morning I’ll go teach this to my third grade graders, again: What we look for as writers is in the small moments that matter. It’s big.