My internal experience reminds me of Ping-Pong. On one side of the net is gratitude, well-being and acceptance. On the other is, as Zen monk Cheri Huber points out, ego’s insidious chorus of “something is wrong” or “not enough”. And my attention is the ball, bouncing over the net between the two sides, or flying off the table altogether into distraction.
Last month, my attention ping-ponged between gratitude and grouchiness when my flight to Montreal was cancelled, suspending my journey in Minneapolis. To recap, while I was appreciative that Delta covered my hotel and food, the additional 24 hours of transit triggered grouchiness. Eventually, I arrived safely and the people I visited graciously accommodated the change in plans. In the grand scheme of things, there was no problem. I shook off the episode and tried to enjoy my abbreviated stay in Canada by focusing on what I did get to do, rather than what I didn’t have time or energy for.
Towards the end of my trip, I received an e-mail survey from Delta, asking how it had handled the cancellation. I could have ignored or deleted the message and kept my attention focused on the present moment. Instead, I chose to respond and indicated they had handled the episode poorly, with confusing and inadequate communication and insufficient staff for the volume of displaced travelers. Mentally revisiting that day reignited some anger at the situation, even though it was already in the past. I submitted my two cents and then forgot about it.
A few days later Delta e-mailed an apology, including 5,000 bonus miles to demonstrate its “commitment to service excellence”. I could have left it at that but, in early April, I had received the same amount after expressing my dismay at its rude flight attendants and filthy lavatories on a flight to Israel in March. The ping-pong ball whizzed to the “not enough” side of the net. By comparison, argued my ego, shouldn’t an extra day in transit warrant additional miles as a gesture of apology? I decided to ask for more, enough to restore those I had redeemed for that portion of my ticket. And I was aware of the illogic of wanting to accumulate points on an airline that twice, in three months, had been sub-par. It’s like staying in a dysfunctional relationship and keeping fingers crossed that the unhealthy dynamic will shift. Wouldn’t it be wiser to use or cash out my remaining balance and find friendlier skies, no break up conversation required? Probably, but my hankering for free (even if flawed) travel got the better of me, and my idealistic self wanted to believe that Delta, like a troubled partner, would turn itself around before our next encounter.
But requesting that the airline, in effect, reimburse me, made me feel both peevish and grandiose, as if my inconvenience was somehow more acute than others’ and that, to restore my trust and faith, they had to go above and beyond. Even my body contracted as I typed the e-mail, as if I were shaking my fist at some invisible malefactor. I was stuck in the “something wrong/not enough” side of the ping-pong table, unable to bounce over the net. And when I didn’t hear from them for several days, I hoped the message had disappeared and, with it, my sense of lack. As it turned out, Delta did consider my request. An employee sent me a personal note: as a good faith gesture in “our continued relationship”, they will deposit more miles in my account. While the total was not the precise amount I named, I chose to be grateful for their responsiveness. The extra miles can’t hurt. But, the next time I board a plane, I hope to maintain an adventurous attitude and keep the ball on the gratitude side of the net, even if the aircraft is dirty or delayed. Flying is incredible, after all, and I wouldn’t want to lose sight of that.