A husky-voiced woman said through her sunshine smile while we sat beside one another on the last leg of a long flight home that the world doesn’t revolve around us, it revolves. It stopped me in my thoughts and I’m sure my heart skipped a beat. After what we’d just endured, her statement rang more true than anything I’d heard in a while.
We have no control over life. We can only command our ship through its waters and hope we don’t hit a reef or too many rocks. We navigate its rocky waters of unseen dangers, dodging and occasionally hitting an iceberg where suddenly we’re forced to sink or swim.
We endured some of those rough waters on our journey home from our two-week family holidays in the sun last week.
The monsoon rains were late to arrive up in northern Australia whilst we were holidaying there. People were desperate for rain. It was only a matter of time before they came.
A cyclone formed half way through our trip, and rain and winds developed to smash the coast. Mother Nature was in control and demanded we enjoy her ride on our island on the Great Barrier Reef until she was finished her almost four-day wind and rain lashing.
Marooned on a tropical island, wonderful! Warm and humid with only three degrees celsius separating day and night temperatures, tropical, green, beautiful beaches ... apart from the rain, perfect. Being marooned didn’t trouble us or spoil our family together time. We couldn’t get off Heron Island and no one or nothing could get on. Great, no bother.
It meant though that we had to change our flights home to Melbourne. That took strong commanding of our ship, particularly with no phone reception, and landlines and internet going down. Eventually, we had our flights changed for departure when we all hoped the harbour would be open and working again. We had an extra day on the island.
The coastguard opened the harbour as predicted after the storms passed. About fifty holidaymakers, three quarters of people on Heron Island, were ferried back to Gladstone on the mainland where flooded lands cut off towns and many people lost everything. One man and his son who travelled on the ferry with us couldn't reach their home in Bundaberg, two hours away, and were told to see The Salvation Army. Transport and people couldn’t move between places, and flights were disrupted. Our flight from Gladstone to Brisbane was delayed like all others, which meant we would miss our connecting flight in Brisbane back to Melbourne, as we would arrive late at night.
‘No worries,’ the airline said. ‘We’ll put you up the night.’ Reassuring words.
Thankfully, we had reception again and texts from concerned family at home were coming through. I was able to update them with what was happening.
So we arrived in Brisbane three hours late with people in nasty moods swamping lounges, diverted and delayed as we were. The airline shut the service desk as the crowds grew, creating more confusion and outrage. Airline staff began to appear amongst the crowd and said that hotels were booked out because of the disruptions and we had an almost hour taxi ride to get to a hotel that night. We were told with many others to see Pete for a taxi voucher and the hotel name but we had to pay our own way back to the airport once our flights home had been organised. Moreover, we had to ring a number to arrange those new flights home.
We were in the throngs of hot and tired, disgruntled and confused people. It was almost midnight by now and children were upset and restless, babies were crying and some were sleeping with a parent on hard floors. We queued in the humidity outside for a taxi with the masses, all desperate to leave the chaos.
It was our turn for a taxi van. We loaded bags and plonked into the vinyl seats, slamming the door behind us. The taxi was quiet compared with the airport. Not one of us five spoke.
After fifty minutes of speeding along highways in darkness, we were checking in and getting the three boys settled. Husband and I went to our room, determined not to go to sleep until we knew we had a flight home. The longer we waited to organise our flights home, the longer we’d be laid up in this no-idea-where-we-are town!
We began our call at around quarter to one in the morning and listened to repeated on-hold messages. At times my stomach knotted tight and the husband told me to go to sleep. However, I was determined to get flights home and finally at 3.00am, we got to speak to someone. We could get a flight at 6.00am but with a connecting flight in Adelaide, which meant flying away from home first to get back to Melbourne. More being put on hold until 3.30am and finally we had our flights changed. It meant we had to pack up and get out of the hotel in a mad hurry in order to make our flight.
I threw on clothes I couldn’t see and dashed downstairs to reception to organise a taxi, then rang the boys to wake them. I dashed up to their room and helped them pack up, and boy three to get dressed. He was crying by now with not quite three hours sleep. But we had to get home now or risk waiting another day. We all had work and school to get back to and funds were running low.
We were outside the hotel by 4.00am waiting for a taxi. We had time. We waited and waited, time ticked on. We paced and searched for oncoming headlights. Boy three grew emotional again and I tried to settle him on his duffle bag to sleep. We called the taxi again, waited more, paced more. Still no taxi. We called the taxi a third time. It finally arrived almost forty minutes late. By now, we thought we’d miss our flight.
The taxi driver whizzed us through the dawn, chatting away after his restful night’s slumber, while we dozed for some minutes in between chatting to him, except for our boy three who crashed and slept the whole way back to the airport. I texted family again to tell them where we were at. I felt comforted that they were on the other end of my phone.
We arrived five minutes late for check in but it didn’t seem to matter, as at just after 5.30 in the morning, the queues were massive and extended onto the footpath outside the airport doors. We found an airline staffer and she said she’d call us up when the flight got nearer. Until then, join the queue. The monitor said the flight was twenty minutes delayed anyway. No surprise there.
After a short time, the monitor changed and our flight was suddenly on time again and due to leave in 15 minutes, yet we were still way back in the queue waiting to check in bags and had to go through security to get to the boarding gate! Very quickly we were ushered up to a counter and as we looked to have some command again, the controller stepped in. The computer system seized and they couldn’t check us in. Frantic phone calls, buttons pressed and steam releasing from frustrated heads ...
We walked onto the plane twenty minutes late to the annoyance of many passengers. We sat apart from one another. I had breakfast, hoping boy three was coping, and he was, read the newspaper, and slept for maybe an hour to wake in time for landing in Adelaide.
Off another plane with almost three hours before our connecting flight home. Time to relax a little, with a strong cup of jasmine tea. And time to update family with another text.
Our boy one said he wanted to check the baggage carousel as he had a feeling our bags might be there as opposed to going straight through to Melbourne. You’ve got to trust intuition - three of the five bags were there. This meant time waiting at baggage services while they searched for the remaining bags. A report was completed and we had to check in the three bags again!
Back up to check in and more queues, more huffing passengers and airline staff! More waiting to check in those bags.
Finally and with ten minutes until boarding, our turn for a counter and a terse airline staffer who was not happy that we had been bumped up the queue! My huffing boiled over and we exchanged words. With twenty-four hours of straight travel, which should have taken eight, and one hour of sleep, I was in no mood for pretentious people. Yet suddenly, I became self-conscious and thought I must've looked like the chaos that surrounded me. My hair, my clothes, I must've looked a mess.
We made the boarding call and it was then that we realised, the airline staffer had moved the husband away from the boys and me. Nevertheless, we were safely on our last leg home. And that’s where I sat beside this worldly woman with her most clearest outlook on life, and who blew me a kiss good-bye when we disembarked the plane after our one and a half hour flight together.
Her truism saw us revolve in synch with the world again and when we landed at our home airport, I felt like kissing the ground.
The world certainly does not revolve around us. It revolves and we try to command its controlling waters.