About two weeks ago, I was in Denver, Colo., for my first International Leadership Association conference, which I attended both as a presenter and as a participant. It was a trip for which I carefully saved and planned for over a year. On the day of my arrival, I wrote on my Facebook page that I was enjoying the simple luxury of indulging in brie and chardonnay soda while watching the sunset alongside the mountains. Sitting on a 14th floor balcony in the Mile High City, I truly felt as though I was on top of the world.
While I intermittently heard about the impending storm and was repeatedly warned about it by my family, I was sure that I would safely arrive home as planned the day before the storm was to really hit the east coast. When I arrived in Minneapolis early Sunday afternoon, I found that my flight to Philadelphia had been cancelled. I quickly got in line at my airline and secured the best possible route home: Minneapolis, Minn., to Columbus, Ohio, to Detroit, Mich., to Scranton, Pa. I had no idea how I would get home from Scranton, but I also knew that flights were going quickly and that this might be my only chance to get close to home.
As we prepared to leave the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, a man just ahead of me had a medical emergency; the flight was delayed as the paramedics attended to him and escorted him off of the plane so that he could receive urgent medical care. When we arrived in Ohio, one of the Presidential candidates was leaving the airport; because one of the runways was closed, our captain circled the airport for about 25 minutes until we were cleared for landing.
I arrived in Columbus about a half hour after the flight for Detroit left the airport. It turns out this may have been a blessing as the flight from Detroit to Scranton was later cancelled. Having no other option, I rented a car in Ohio and drove more than nine hours overnight. I arrived home about 6 a.m. on Monday morning. That day, our power went out and would not return until Thursday.
With my luggage in Detroit, I longed to have my things close to me. I yearned for the sensation of warm water running through my freshly cleaned hair. I ached for warmth from both a heater and a cup of tea. I craved news of what was going on in my community and throughout the Northeast. All of this was unavailable to me in the comfort of my home.
I went to a local bookstore and coffee shop where people were situated in every nook and cranny in an attempt to get warmth and connection to the outside world. The long lines at local gas stations throttled traffic. Exiting and entering my neighborhood was like navigating a labyrinth with fallen trees and power lines everywhere. The simple luxuries of warmth, a cooked meal, unrestricted travel, and news media seemed out of reach to me and to so many others in my community.
I have unexpectedly experienced the most wonderful simple luxury over the past week: the generosity of others. At a local coffee shop, a man sitting next to me introduced himself and shook my hand -- a courteous gesture that we are usually too busy and self-centered to offer to strangers. In my community, a man took sandwiches and water to a senior high rise that was without power for days. At least three salons in my city offered free shampoos to those without power. A local diner offered a free meal to those in need. These and many other small kindnesses meant so much to me and to others impacted by the storm.
Yet, my losses are negligible compared to those of others. According to CNN, more than 2.5 million people are still without power and over 100 people have died. There are people -- not too far from where I live -- in dire need of immediate assistance not only to be more comfortable but to survive. Perhaps because of my own difficulties this week, I feel more connected to them, more compassionate toward their circumstances, and more responsible for their wellbeing. I also feel this same sense of connection, compassion, and responsibility for the millions of people around the world who will not have access to any of these simple luxuries -- running water, heat, a safe home -- regardless of natural disasters.
Perhaps this is the true meaning of leadership -- thinking beyond ourselves and taking action to create a better world. I feel recommitted to my occupation and to the purposeful integration of my compassionate vocation into my every thought, interaction, and decision.
I am home and all of my friends and family are safe. I am dedicated to lovingly serving others. I truly do feel as though I am on top of the world.