“Sorry folks, we’re going to need everyone to sit back down. We’ve discovered some mechanical issues that are gonna push back our departure time.”
I knew the drill. I’m an itinerant. I was once on 63 flights in a six-month stretch. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard those ominous words in an airport. Although, I hadn’t heard them in the Dallas airport before. I guess that was a first of sorts.
My Southwest A14 boarding pass meant someone else had already encroached on my former gate-side seat while I stood in line, waiting to board. It was one of the good ones with an outlet and a window that let in natural light, too.
I shuffled through the throngs of people and roller-bags to scout out a new place to setup camp for a few more minutes. Hopefully minutes. Possibly hours. “Mechanical” isn’t exactly a word you hope for in your delayed-flight announcement.
I found a pair of open seats a few rows away from the gate and I dropped my duffel bag onto one. As I settled into the other, I felt an unpleasant heat radiating from the black pleather. Someone had abandoned the seat not long before I arrived. I slipped my phone from my pocket and pulled up my conversation with a friend, Jeff.
“Dude,” I tapped out a quick message to Jeff. “I might be getting into Denver a bit later than expected... stay tuned.”
Jeff and his fiancé were flying from Chicago to ski with my wife, Erin, and me. My flight was scheduled to land two hours before theirs, but after the Dallas gate agent made another announcement 30 minutes later, “We’re now looking into other available aircraft that can get everyone home safely,” I was just hoping to arrive in Denver on the same day.
“Hey man, could I join you?”
I looked up from my phone and didn’t expect to see what I saw. A man in his mid-thirties wearing a sheepish grin and an equally goofy pair of overalls stood in front me. He pointed to my duffel bag, implying he wanted to sit where it was sitting.
His overalls were actually bib-style snow-pants that rose over his shoulders and clipped in the front. They had extra padding around the knees and waist, like most toddlers wear as they learn to ski for the first time. I was confused why someone would be wearing snow-pants in Texas – let alone in an airport – before remembering I was headed home to Denver.
“Sure, yeah. You’re going skiing this weekend, I imagine?” I replied as I cleared the seat for him. I wondered if it was his insulated-overalls that incubated my seat before I arrived, leaving it extra-warm for me.
“Yep! This will be my first time. Ever. I’m meeting some friends. I don’t think they’re going to be too happy to see me if we arrive real late, though.” He confirmed and shared that we were in the same boat.
“Yeah, I think some friends will be waiting on me too. Unfortunately. But your first time skiing, that’s exciting. What mountain are you headed to?” I inquired.
“I’m not really sure. They say they’re going to watch the weather and we’ll go where the going’s good. I think we’re probably going to Gunnison as of right now. Or in that area. Ever heard of it?” He asked in reply.
“Oh, nice. Yeah, I was just there a few weeks ago. That’s some ambitious terrain for your first time.”
“Wherever I end up is fine with me. I just can’t wait to be out there,” he beamed as he described how thrilled he was to be spending the weekend in the Rockies.
“I work in the oil fields, you see. All my life I’ve worked there so I never really had the thought to go skiing until some friends moved to Colorado and said I should visit. I’ve never seen so much snow, and I don’t really know what to expect, so I figure I might as well get used to the gear.” He thumbed his overall straps, snapping them against his chest.
I smiled. I couldn’t help but appreciate how this fellow’s eager anticipation for a weekend of skiing had moved him to wear his overalls on an airplane.
“I think you’ll have fun. It’ll be different than Texas, but you’ll have a blast,” I said before turning back to my phone to text Erin my new ETA.
Southwest had updated our arrival time to two hours past the originally-scheduled arrival. If all worked out, I’d land in Denver at the same time as Jeff.
I looked up from my phone and glanced at a TV mounted in the corner of the gate area.
There was a commercial for Hennessy, the liquor, playing on the screen. Some footage of impressive people doing impressive things rolled along before the words, “Never Stop, Never Settle,” appeared next to a bottle of alcohol.
My first thought was to question the validity of the apparent link between drinking Hennessey and accomplishing extraordinary things. My second thought was born from the stark contrast between the tagline, “Never Stop, Never Settle,” and my new overall-wearing friend.
Sitting six inches to my left was a man so giddy and chock-full of delight to be skiing for the first time that he’d decided to wear his overalls to the airport. But featured on the screen in front of me, I saw the American ideal of incessant achievement and relentless consumption proclaimed.
The dichotomy illuminated a new, seemingly-backward life truth in my mind: the more we consume, the less satisfied we feel.
Mr. Overalls wasn’t heading to South Korea to compete in the Sochi Olympics. He wasn’t going to be jumping from a helicopter attempting to ride unadultered, boulder-ridden slopes that no man had dared attempt before him. He was keen to slap on a pair of beat-up rentals and experience the exhilaration of bunny slopes that have just enough pitch that you can make it to the bottom without the help of poles.
How often do we feel bogged down by the regular, run-of-the-mill experiences like hanging out on the bunny hill? If we could recall feeling the simple joy in living something for the first time, like Mr. Overalls, would that fill the void we daily try to fill with more, and more-extraordinary experiences?
I’ll admit it. I’m guiltier of “never stopping, never settling,” than most reading this blog.
Regularly, Erin has to rest her hand on my leg to prevent it from rapidly bopping up and down in restless, uncontended energy. Nate without a new goal or project is Nate in his worst form. I become insatiable and irritable. I feel like a lesser person because I’m not living on the limit of some novel, never-discovered frontier.
But, where’s the meaning in “never settling?”
If we were to survey our personal conquests, most would begin with the statement, “If I could just…” or, “If I could only…” I’d bet you’ve not only heard this, you’ve said it.
“Then” and some false promise usually follows these statements. “If I could just increase my salary to six-figures, then I’d be content.” Or, “If I could only finish that marathon a little faster, then I’d stop spending so much money on new gear.”
Maybe that feels a little too over-achiever to you. Maybe you’ve said something like, “If I could just get one more promotion, then I’d spend more free time with my family.”
Consumption is a bottomless pit that will never be filled, will always demand, and cannot offer us any path to true satisfaction. Instead, if we understand more consumption does not equate satisfaction, and recall the “feeling of the first-time,” we’ll find greater fulfillment during our ordinary days.
To an even greater extent, if we’ve identified the central purpose behind life itself – not just the activities and hobbies we spend our time on – we won’t be forced to look for the cheap, fleeting contentment that consumerism offers.
If that’s a topic that interests you, it’s one that I cover in great depth and detail in my book, Living Forward, Looking Backward.
Note: I’m a loyal Southwest A-List member and I love their service, so while I write about a delayed flight, I’ve found them to be the most on-time and enjoyable to fly #IflySWA