Friday, February 28, 2014

Day 1 - Flight

Departure day came quickly upon us. Our team gathered at our church a little before 7 in the morning. After hastily doing some last minute checks, the bags were tossed in the back of the van. There was a brief time of prayer and we were off in our matching bright red Extreme Hope shirts.

A mission trip is barely a mission trip without at least one matching wardrobe piece. (Fortunately these were actually comfortable, practical, and tastefully logo-ed)

Our flights were generally uneventful. Lunch was had by the more adventurous at a decent Cuban place in Miami's airport and at the airport TGI Friday's for those who probably knew a little better. There was the typical discussion of seating arrangements and the like. Suspiciously, our pastor, whom booked the tickets, nearly always ended up getting the coveted emergency row aisle seat... 

A curious thing happened on the second leg of our flight from Nashville to Miami. Well, curious may be a bit generous. In any case it caused me to think, which helped pass the time if nothing else. 

It struck me that much of life is spent preparing for the worst, but hastening the best in a situation. 

My seat wasn't directly adjacent to anyone else in our group, so our eyes were peeled for any potential vacancies. I was assigned seat 20E and Steve was the closest at 21E. This seat posed several problems. The first being the inevitable placement of seat E in a jet of this size. Our flight was from Miami to Quito, not London, Tokyo, or any other high traffic cultural and transit hub that might have afforded the flag ship transoceanic jets with multiple aisles and a seat E that could potentially land in such a spot. our flight meant that my seat would be planted squarely between two people that, at best, might be kind enough to switch seats, or, at minimum, might kindly lend me an armrest. While I wasn't squished between an infant and an obese ad for Axe Body Spray, as had been my fear, I was sandwiched between two elderly Ecuadorean men that looked as if they might have murdered me in their younger days to maintain the precious 18 inches of no man's land between them. 

Now the plot thickens. As departure approached, it became clear that the pre-boarding gate attendants had been less than truthful when they stressed just how incredibly full today's flight would be. In fact, several of the rows soon showed signs of only utilizing one of it's three potential seats. Steve, with guidance from a rather flamboyant couple (they may have been Polo teammates? That's another story), escaped to an unclaimed aisle seat a few rows back without a moment's hesitation. My overly self conscious self delayed long enough to let the young woman in front of me start to raise the arm rests, open all three blankets, and lay out all three pillows that she was about to claim as her own before I asked, as awkwardly and politely as I could muster, if she would mind me taking the seat at the end of her row. 

A bit taken aback, she falteringly obliged. I couldn't help but feel guilty for reducing her nest from an almost comfortable three seat bed to a barely tolerable two seat set up. My brazen, 'merican self had yet again tempered the burgeoning hopes of a Latin citizen's quest for a little comfort. She was not upset, I should add, just a little disappointed that she'd lost her windfall seat set up. She was certainly cordial enough, but there was a slight shadow in her initial reactions that I couldn't escape. It most definitely wasn't enough to force me to seriously consider returning to Ecuadoran DMZ behind me though. 

Once the guilt was sufficiently rationalized, the revelation struck. Before the plane had boarded, the slighted young lade and I likely had the same fears of airborne companionship. Sure she had a window seat, which does afford a great deal of escapist freedom, but neither of us were expecting the net improvement that even one empty adjacent seat might grant. In the end, both of our situations quantifiably improved over our anticipated states. However, since she had, for a few brief moments, entertained the thought that she had achieved an even greater lift in her prospects, she was a bit disheartened at the loss of that extra marginal improvement. On the other hand, I was elated to have gained even just the marginal improvement of empty adjacent seat.  We had both experienced the same level of improvement, but our perceptions of that improvement were significantly different.

Perhaps disappointment doesn't come from the lack of achievement, but the degradation of our dreams.

Not much happened after our arrival in Quito about 10 o'clock that night. Roberto (our bus driver), Joil (the local missionary), and two of Joil's sons met us at the airport. We drove in the dark about an hour and a half around the edge of Quito. The passing lights in the hills and valleys indicated an urban area, but beyond that not much could be discerned. The roads were reasonably well paved, the bus was fairly nice, and the little hotel was much less terrible than I'd anticipated. There wasn't much deep discussion or life changing conversation. We swapped a few stories, talked about the upcoming days a bit, and settled in for some rest.

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