For the Love of Fate and Airport Delays

On making the most of unfortunate circumstance

Jack Purdy
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Travel delays suck. We’ve all experienced them when you’re brimming with pre-trip excitement, you’re all packed up and mentally prepared for the excursion ahead. You show up early to your gate, only to be told to wait for a few more hours with a horde of others just as pissed off as you. Or worst case you have to head back home with your tail tucked between your legs to try your luck again the next day.

If you’re lucky this doesn’t happen too often or when it does it’s mitigated to a short delay. For others, it seemingly happens all too frequently and leads to nightmarish travel scenarios. And then there’s me, who must have slept with the travel god’s wife in another life as that’s the only sensible explanation I could muster for the outright absurdity that is my experience traveling.

However, as of late, I’ve started finding solace in these situations. A certain comfort, a refreshing ease from what on the surface appears to be an inevitable, stress-inducing experience.

To give you an idea, when I first traveled alone, I was about 10 years old in Florida on vacation. I had a baseball game to go back to so my parents figured they could send me out on my own. I still remember them reiterating how simple it was — you just wait in the TSA line, follow signs to your gate, then board the plane, and someone will be waiting for you when you arrive.

If only that were the case. I don’t recall what led to this particular delay, but my flight didn’t leave for a good 6 hours after it was scheduled. I didn’t have a debit card or anything at that age so was left to fend for myself, eventually finding a pitying airline worker who hooked me up with some food vouchers so I didn’t starve.

This set the stage for the vast majority of trips I’ve taken since. Recently, this culminated in a particularly eventful experience that left me with quite a bit of time to ponder the thoughts I’m now putting on these pages.

I was flying out of Amsterdam after a conference rounding off a month-long stint in Europe. I heard murmurs of a worker’s strike at Schiphol, so I reckoned I’d play it safe and show up three hours early. As I pulled up in my taxi, I was hit with a comical disbelief as I saw a half-mile-long line outside spanning several terminals. I was spared having to inquire what was going on as every single person walking in was doing so for me only to get the same version of “yup, that’s the line.”

Never in my life have I seen so many people with identical facial expressions communicating the same message. It was as if they all got “I’m Fucked” tattooed on their forehead. Suffice to say I didn’t even get to check my bags and was told to make my way to the customer service line to rebook where there were two employees servicing yet another line you couldn’t see the end of.

For the next four hours, I stood there next to my luggage painstakingly watching the time go by, wishfully checking my phone on the off chance the lackluster airport Wi-Fi could distract me for a few minutes. Eventually, I got a return flight leaving the next day. Knowing the airport was still going to be a mess I showed up at 8am for my 1pm flight… and still barely made it. Thankfully my connecting flight in Atlanta wasn’t delayed. They just lost my bag…

Now I could go on but I’ll spare the details of every time inclement weather, IT system outages, flat tires, pilots going MIA, you name it has led to woes from sleeping on the floor in JFK (twice), taking a frenzied taxi from Heathrow to Gatwick to catch the last flight out of London, spending my entire 24th birthday in LAX, missing holidays (including Kings Day in Amsterdam), Bachelor parties, the Grammy’s (nearly)… you get the point.

This has left me in quite a number of situations where I’m forced to accept a fate outside my control and face all the emotions that come with it head-on. Oftentimes this is extreme FOMO from the experiences I no longer get to partake in, anger at the organizations responsible for the mishaps, persistent anxiety around the uncertainty of the situation, and a whole host of other not-so-pleasant states.

With the onslaught of these emotions, how could anyone find that “certain comfort and refreshing ease”?

Take the above situation in Amsterdam. I’m inching through a seemingly endless line and finally reach the desk to check my bags. I ask if we can hurry so I can make my flight that leaves shortly and they say I’ve missed my chance, condemning me to God knows how much more waiting. Objectively, this sucks. But there are a few things I can do from here:

  1. Sulk in despair at how much it sucks.
  2. Fantasize about how great life would be if that never happened and I got to land on time.
  3. Accept that situation with a passive indifference knowing there’s nothing I can do about it.
  4. Lovingly embrace the situation, focusing on the good that can come of it.
Image created by the author

Regardless of the choice I make, I will be sitting with it alone in my thoughts for a long time. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never woken up and said I’d like to feel more despair today. So, scratch the sulking.

Fantasizing about the alternate reality where I made it home at least offers a reprieve from my current woes, but the persistent longing creates a gap between where I’m at and where I wish I was which ultimately leads to different flavors of sadness.

Moving on to accepting, that feels like a reasonable path forward. If I accept the reality, I won’t be blaming myself or anyone else, avoiding the pissed-off state of everyone else around me. That sounds like the proper, stoic approach.

But what about the last option? What if I exercise the mental gymnastics to focus on all the things I can now do as a result of this egregious delay? What if I approach my current state of affairs with a genuine love for the fact I got to travel during a worker’s strike in Amsterdam and now get to spend a few hours without the distractions of day-to-day life to do whatever the hell I want?

What if I pick up the phone and call a friend or a relative I want to keep closer in my life but haven’t had the time? What if I start going down my perpetually growing list of podcasts? What if I just stand still and try to focus on my breath for 10 minutes, catching myself in distractions to work on my mindfulness practice that somehow always falls by the wayside?

The beauty of endless hours in line is that I got to do all of these things and more. As I look back now, I can definitively say that this delay made my life better, for if everything had gone smoothly, I would have gotten home and resumed life as usual. I wouldn’t have caught up with an old friend, jumpstarting the relationship and making plans to hang out the next chance we got. I wouldn’t have several pages of actionable podcast notes. I wouldn’t have had the aha moment on how I can use meditation in very practical settings outside sitting on a pillow every morning.

Put simply, my life would have been marginally worse. This is all a result of a concept that would become a cornerstone of my life, where you don’t just passively accept forces beyond your control, you cultivate a relentless affection for it. Thank you Nietzche.

My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it…but love it.

Amor Fati, this “love of fate” is one of the highest pursuits as so much of our suffering comes from external events that we take at face value. We become pawns to the perceived malintents of Fate, seemingly hell-bent on condemning us to the negative consequences of unfortunate circumstances.

And yet while you may be powerless to the Dutch Airline Workers Union that doesn’t care how long of a day you’ve had or how eager you are to get home, you have full autonomy over how you spend your time and where you direct your energy be it on the woe is me mentality that breeds sorrow within you or the great opportunity that has presented itself to have an abundance of unfettered time to yourself.

It doesn’t matter if you find yourself in an airport delay or any of the other infinite predicaments Fate may bring, there is always value that can be derived from the situation.

So rather than wallow in self-pity, what if you garnered a genuine, unshakeable love for all that has happened, knowing it’s the only way things could have happened, for if it were meant to be any different, then you wouldn’t be right here and now. What if you embraced the new possibilities in front of you as a result of Fate’s seemingly devious attempts to knock you off course?

Instead of the instinctual reactionary state of despondency, you’ll see an expansive future ahead of you. Life will start to flow a little easier. Self-induced misery will seem childlike. Regret becomes a foreign concept. You’ll operate in a new omnipresent blissful resiliency.

So next time you find yourself in an airport and the voice on the intercom says in a sarcastically cheery voice that you’ll be waiting for God knows how long and will have to miss whatever you were imminently looking forward to. Take a deep breath and smile. Fate has gifted you with yet another beautiful opportunity.

Originally published at



Jack Purdy
New Writers Welcome

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