Saving the worst for last

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By Tom Holmes

Contributing Reporter / Religion Blogger


             I always feel anxious before catching a plane.  I worry about forgetting my passport, getting there on time, making it through security. . . .even somehow getting on the wrong plane.  I have nightmares about that.


            So, it was a relief that the limo—a Lincoln Town Car—was waiting for me outside the hotel lobby at 4:30 am. and made what I thought would be a two hour drive in an hour and fifteen minutes.  I had been through Suvarnabhumi Airport several times, so I knew where the United Airlines counter was.  After checking my bags and getting my seat assignment, I was told to wait in a few minutes for a wheelchair to arrive. 


            Everything was going smoothly.  While I waited for the wheelchair, I had time to eat the box breakfast the hotel had made up for me.


            The first time I’d ever walked a labyrinth—it was at a convent along the Mississippi River—what struck me the most was that just at the point where it felt like I would reach the goal, the center, the path turned 180 degrees and headed in the opposite direction.


            The wheelchair arrived and the driver took me to the expedited line for handicapped people like me.  I knew the drill and had my passport ready.  The Royal Thai immigration person checked it over, frowned and in pretty good English politely told me that I’d overstayed my visa.


            “Some technicality,” I thought as why wheelchair driver took me in the direction the immigration guy was pointing.  “This will take just a minute to clear up.”


            The woman at the desk wasn’t smiling.  “Must have been brought up outside Thailand,” I figured.


            The sour puss looked at my passport and announced that I had overstayed my visa by 30 days.  “You must pay 15,000 baht,” she told me.  I did a quick calculation--$600.


            “But I had received a sixty day extended visa from the Thai consulate in Chicago,” I protested.


            “Yes, but went you entered Cambodia on Dec. 11, that voided your original visa.  When you reentered Thailand, you were required to get a new visa.”


            “But, but no one told me,” I lamented to myself.  I can’t remember if I prayed or not.  Regardless, God knew what I was going through, and this time I wasn’t miraculously bailed out—deus ex machine style—by Nicky or Sanit or some kind stranger. 


            Frugal—my friends use the word cheap—by nature, I’m not sure whether I was more upset about losing that much money, not having the guy at the border give me a heads up or the possibility of not getting to my plane on time.


            I looked at the stern Thai official with my most helpless look and sighed.  No response other than pointing to where I could exchange lots of dollars for Thai baht.  My chauffeur wheeled me to the currency exchange.  I handed my Forest Park National Bank debit card to the nice lady at the counter, who asked “how much” to which I replied “15,000 baht.” She swiped the card and frowned.  “Would not accept.” 


            I clearly remember that at that point, I did consciously asked God to help me out of this.  I also tried to detach enough from my panic to think clearly.  The Buddha had taught me something that stuck.  I had one other option.  I handed the nice lady my Visa card—no pun

intended—and prayed that it would work.


            She swiped the card.  I waited.  She smiled.  “OK,” she said and handed me the biggest wad of Thai baht I had ever handled.


            I heaved a sigh of relief that this turned out to not be the end of the world after all.  I would pay the fine, get to my plane on time and get back home safely. . .that is if the plane didn’t crash in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and wind up alone on a deserted island like Tom Hanks in Castaway.  It’s hard to be detached and stay positive when you’ve just lost $600.


            The plane took off on time.  Circumstances were returning to normal, but not my internal equilibrium.  “See what I mean?” said the Buddha sitting on my shoulder.  “You get attached to things, and you suffer, because everything is impermanent.”


            Since the flight from Bangkok to Tokyo is five hours and then the flight from Narita Airport to O’Hare is another eleven, I had plenty of time to reflect on the meaning of the depression I was feeling.


            It didn’t take me long to come to a conclusion.  The Buddha was right.  I was clinging too tightly not only to my money but also to life going the way I wanted it to.  But Jesus was right, too, and in a more profound way, at least to my view of things.  I did get through the crisis.  I did have this sense that I had been taken care of—not in the way I preferred, of course—and the grieving process wouldn’t take too long.  I began to feel better.


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