IT WAS A NEW YORK-MIAMI flight, and it was turning out badly. Snow at La Guardia airport forced passengers to switch to JFK, where the facilities were said to be better able to cope. The resulting delay on our flight and several others was long enough that Miami airport was filled with nearly 1,000 people who had missed connecting flights and were, like myself, obliged to stay a night and be re-ticketed.
The confusion and resulting anger were considerable (a couple next to me had missed a cruise ship!) and the airline ground personnel took the brunt of it.
A month or so later, a similar problem arose on a Toronto-Vancouver flight. An aircraft was not available and two flights had to be amalgamated. The task was quickly done with a delay of 20 minutes.
The difference between the two situations? In the New York emergency, there were no people to handle it; even after our plane and crew were ready, we waited an hour because there was no one to take our tickets. When the crowds hit Miami, there were no staff in reserve.
When the problem struck Toronto, extra people were available and, just as important, informed passengers about developments. In New York and Miami, there was never a word of information or explanation.
The whole difference lay in the availability of reserves.
This is, of course, an increasingly familiar problem, whether we live in downsized workplaces where the staff is maintained at a level sufficient simply to do the normal (and then only by going flat out) or wait in long line-ups of the sort we used to associate with pictures of the Soviet Union. Contemporary management wisdom favours minimalism – and we all feel the consequences.
Lack of people reserves also translates into lack of interior reserves in the workers, and workplaces become increasingly demoralized.
But personal lives, even children’s lives, are for many so overcrowded with activities and expectations that many feel increasingly harried. Our own interior reserves get depleted, as if our water table is dropping and our springs of refreshment retreating.
One of my favourite psalms says, “The singers and the dancers will say, `All my fresh springs are in you’ ” (Psalm 87.7).
Singers and dancers need not only talent and competence, but very basic energy, breath and muscle. Without those fundamentals, any talent comes to naught.
The words speak of limitless clear water not far away, available if we just stop, listen for its sound, clear away some rocks to find it, and then drink until we are refreshed and renewed. But rushing around preoccupied, not listening and looking, means not that there is no water, but that we are not going to find it.
We can too easily let ourselves be turned into human Miami airports, overflowing with frustration and rage. Frenzied activity, pushing ourselves ever harder, will achieve that frightening result.
The psalmist’s springs are the bubbling up of the infinite water table, which is the living God undergirding all life. Our task is to connect with that God, not waiting until we are staggering from fatigue, but daily building our own reserves against the times when we are pressed beyond our capacities.
Archbishop Michael Peers is Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.