There is a certain airline – best left unnamed – that I will never use again, no matter how cheap the tickets. The level of incompetence that left passengers sitting at the gate for 5-1/2 hours for what was supposed to be a quick stopover and then informed them that the flight was cancelled was staggering. In addition, there was then a 2-hour wait in line to provide the airlines with an address for delivering the bags because, despite the freezing cold weather, they were unable to pull them off the plane.

At this point all trains had left the station and a two hour taxi ride was our only option for reaching our destination. All in all, it took (from leaving my home at 5 a.m. to catch a 6:30 flight) 17 hours to travel from Los Angeles to New York. Did I mention that my coat, boots, gloves and earmuffs were all in that bag that the airline was unable to pull off the plane? In fact, it took them a day and a half to do that. Does anyone remember what the weather was last week in New York? I sure do!! But I’m not posting to complain (and I’m sure many of you have airline horror stories that top mine) but to share two observations from the experience.

I was travelling with one of my children and although there were moments when exhaustion overwhelmed and tears threatened, I managed to keep it together. Not everyone did and there were a lot of frustrated and angry people all around me – with a particular ferocity directed at anyone that dared try to cut the line! I don’t attribute my calm and patience to any particular strength of character but rather to two outside forces.

The first was the presence of my daughter. Although she is not an infant, I still felt the pressure to set an example and to be the “adult” in the situation. I wanted to present a composed front so that we could both face the situation in (relatively) good humor. When someone else is depending on us, we can rise to the occasion. A significant part of parenting is being a good actor, of telling your children not to fear and that everything will be all right even when you are quaking inside. Although this was not on the level of a traumatic experience, I could still bring those well-developed acting skills to bear. We all have this ability when we put someone else’s needs before our own.

The second component was the fact that I wasn’t alone – not just that I was with my daughter but that I was with many other passengers – from my flight and a number of others – who were in similar circumstances. It’s not so much “misery loves company” as the sense that it wasn’t personal. I wasn’t being uniquely singled out and afflicted. I hadn’t made some bad choice that had set these events unfolding. It was just part of the reality of modern life and there were many of us in the same boat.

That provided comfort and even an ability for many of us to laugh at the absurdity of the situation – those who weren’t yelling that is! (“It’s a non-refundable ticket so we can’t compensate you,” claimed the clerk.)

This was also a lesson I was able to extrapolate into life. When we think that our spouse is uniquely clueless or our children are uniquely difficult or our life struggles are so much greater than anyone else’s we may feel persecuted and resentful but when we recognize that it is the human condition that affects everyone (albeit in different ways), we are reassured and strengthened. Of course the higher level is to recognize the opportunity for growth inherent in every challenge – and ultimately to be grateful for it!

Since our suitcases were so delayed, we were forced to go shopping (darn!). I ran 10 blocks in 14-degree temperatures to the closest discount store to purchase a coat (actually nicer than the one in my suitcase) and some gloves that made the next day bearable – even if I was wearing the same clothes I had flown in and actually slept in. Later in the week I was relating our story to a friend in the city. “Why didn’t you call me?” she asked. “I would have brought coats, mittens, boots – everything – to your hotel.” And I know she would have. Was there some independent streak in me that prevented me from calling? Some aspect of martyrdom? Or just the hopes of a good blog?

But here was lesson number three. I wasn’t alone and I should have reached out for help. There is no merit in “toughing it out” where it isn’t necessary and, beyond that, I deprived her of the opportunity to help. Why am I so sure of that? Because we all have that instinct. If the shoe were on the other foot, I would have run to help it. Did I have to prove something? (Did I just want a new coat?!)

In the end of course, these (minor) travails added to the sense of the adventure and didn’t diminish the trip. In fact they enhanced it because what was a simple vacation turned into an opportunity for growth!