“YOU WILL FALL”: A Lesson on Limitations and Perspective

Before I get too carried away with telling you another miserable story of traveling woes, I would like to say: Even in the hell that is Washington Dulles International Airport, there are so many angels.

I was hoping that my next blog post would be titled: “SURPRISE! I MADE IT BACK TO RWANDA!” Instead, I’m sitting shivering in Terminal D4, alternating between typing a few lines of text on a rapidly dying netbook and warming my hands on a cup of green tea purchased from a nearby Dunkin Donuts – the only store that is open 24/7 in my airport terminal. Thank God I decided to pack an extra Northface fleece in my carry-on suitcase.

Apparently this is the hardest charger to procure in the world...

When I first arrived at O’Hare and realized that I forgot my netbook charger, one of my friends texted me something along the lines of “Well at least you learned a lesson.” At the time (before things were that bad), I was already miffed by how unhelpful that statement was. I mean, I don’t know if I’ve necessarily learned a lesson from this, but I’ve certainly suffered from the consequences of my actions. Now, fourteen hours later, I have paid more heavily for my failure than I had originally anticipated, and have learned a very painful lesson – not about the importance of packing thoroughly, but about recognizing my limitations.

This has, indeed, been a quarter of realizing my limitations.

I have a very vivid image in my mind right now of my family and friends rolling their eyes and sighing, but before all of you open your mouths to utter those dreaded four words, “I-told-you-so,” let me just say that I know that all of you have “told-me-so” but I am finally starting to actually understand what one of my friends meant when he told me “Be careful. You think that you can get away with doing everything now, but the higher you climb, the harder you fall. And eventually, you will fall.”

I laughed then. I am certainly not laughing now.

History does have a funny way of repeating itself. The last time that I tried to go to Rwanda, I also got stuck in DC, but at least then it wasn’t my fault, and I got a lovely voucher from United Airlines to stay overnight at a resort and enjoy $50 worth of airport restaurant fare. No such thing this time around.

So as I relate to you the story of my (mis)adventures thus far, I hope that I am not only sharing with you stories but also conveying to you at least a bit of the lesson I have finally learned after a long career of trying to over-achieve. Not that I have necessarily retired from this post, but I think I will certainly tone it down a notch after this…

On Limitations

I am one of those kids who has never needed my parents to tell me to boost my grades or work harder to succeed. Instead of pushing me to do more like many Asian parents – to take more AP classes and join more extracurriculars – my parents were the ones who actively sought to hold me back. They enforced a 10 PM curfew so that I would sleep, and established specific times for meals so that I would eat. They tried to limit my extracurriculars, warned me not to reach too high on certain goals, and discouraged me from attaining the perfection that I sought. I didn’t appreciate it then, but I finally see and understand the love and caring behind it now. In high school, over-achieving meant packing my class schedule to get rid of lunch, taking unnecessary AP classes, spending every possible hour doing community service, and taking on Rachmaninoff pieces that were almost impossible for small hands like my own. In college, it has meant course-overloading with seven classes a quarter, working three jobs, taking advantage of every academic opportunity, and being involved with anything I deemed “meaningful.” My definition of “success” came first, and everything else – sleep, nutrition, mental/social/emotional/spiritual health, family, and even friendships – came second. Maybe it was the exhilaration of taking on challenges, or the pride that came with success, or maybe it was the thrill of living on the edge – I’m not sure, but my family and friends told me over and over that I was over-committed and spreading myself too thin. I knew they were right, but I would only laugh and tell them that success was only a couple sleepless nights and meal-less days away. I plowed forward, adding another class here, another job there, compromising my health and my relationships with others for a dream of success that I’ve never quite defined.

My friend warned me that I would fall.

Well, I finally fell this quarter. And I fell hard.

Somewhere between my teaching practicum, senior thesis papers, classes, leadership positions, job applications, and other commitments and responsibilities, I began to compromise quality for quantity. It used to take just a couple all-nighters to pull myself through the most stressful periods, but this quarter, I’ve been forced to make some very hard decisions and pick and choose where I would not fail. My practicum coordinator told me that student teaching would require 110%. At the place that I was this quarter, I could only afford to offer 70%. I ended up disappointing many people which culminated in poor-quality work and a stern request for me to “reflect on whether you are truly committed to teaching.”

When this whole flight fiasco happened and I called my parents for help, I was surprised and dismayed when my dad told me that this was the product of being over-committed. “How can you focus on the essentials when you have so many things to do?” he said. My dad was right. My past week is a complete blur of all-nighters and frantic-runningaround-interviewsmeetingsfinalspaperspackingetcetc.

I had literally just passed airport security at O’Hare when I realized that I forgot the charger for my netbook. Without the charger, it would be impossible for me to do my research. I had two options at this point: to ask one of my friends to drive it over and risk missing my flight, or to suck it up and buy a new one at one of the airport electronics stores. I chose the latter and ran around until I found a vendor that looked at my netbook and said he had the charger for $50. I bought it, took it out of the box to fit in my purse, and ran to my flight on the other side of the airport, so immensely relieved that I had avoided a near scare.

I arrived at Dulles and went to Moe’s for dinner, relishing the fact that this time around, I wasn’t going to be stranded in DC because I was on time for my Ethiopian Airlines departure at 8:30 PM. Major pat-on-the-back for Lydia.

Now, imagine my consternation when I discovered that the charger was incompatible with my netbook.

Yes, just like that except with more horror and freaking out.

With two hours remaining before boarding, I had to evaluate my options … except I did not have very many. If I got on the flight – no, I couldn’t get on the flight because I needed my charger to do research and 1) they don’t sell my netbook, much less the charger, in Rwanda, 2) shipping is unreliable and would take far too long, even with the fastest rate. If I rebooked my flight for $100, what were my options then? I would have to first run around this airport to see if they carried my charger. If that failed, I could call a cab and search DC for a charger. Or Johnny, my friend in Evanston, suggested that he would bring my charger to O’Hare and pay someone who was going to Dulles to bring it to me. The latter option seemed far too risky.

So I frantically ran around the Dulles airport until I determined that no one sold my charger, and then I tearfully returned to the Ethiopian Airlines counter and delayed my flight for $100. I sat in the terminal and made phone calls to electronics stores as I watched everyone board the flight to Ethiopia – my flight – and leave. One store, Best Buy, claimed that they carried a limited stock of chargers that would be compatible with my netbook, but at this point they were closing, and would reopen in the morning at 9 AM.

What to do?

NOTE: Netbook dies here, conveniently marking a new section of this post.


On Perspective

This was when things started looking up. (P.S. I’m currently still sitting in Terminal D4 crossing my fingers that this is going to work out because I still don’t have a charger. Explanation to come). One of the Ethiopian Airlines workers who had noted my distress came to me to say that he had spoken with his boss and waived the $100 fee. A small hint of a smile? Yes, I should say so!

Then, as I continued to sit in D4, another employee who was a vendor at one of the small food chains came to me and asked how he could help. After listening to my story, he suggested that instead of taking a cab to Best Buy in the morning and having to reenter security and pay for an expensive cab ride, he could pick up the charger for me and have it to me by 9:30 AM the next morning.

Full smile, now.

A little more relieved that this might actually work out, I accepted his offer and spent the remainder of my evening wandering around Dulles in search of warm terminals to sleep in. I finally settled on D4 and went into another small convenience store to pick up a snack. Aisha, the woman who worked there, must have seen how tired I looked and soon she learned my story as well.

Honey,” she said, “I always tell both my sons that when bad things happen, you can’t focus on them and worry so much! If you worry, worry, worry, then something else happens and you are still worrying about this one thing and then you have another problem.”

I nodded and sighed. Then, all of a sudden, tears started forming in her eyes.

My sister – my baby – had to have lung surgery and just yesterday, the hospital finally dispatched her,” she told me, wiping away tears, “I am driving on the highway, driving, driving, and thinking about my sister and then all of a sudden [she gestured a collision with her hands] – my car ppshttt – done! Gone!”


Yes,” she said and nodded, “And this car – oh, the most beautiful car, beautiful seats and doors, with GPS [she shook her head] – I spent three years making payments for this car, I work forty hours every week for this car, and now – gone! Gone, gone!”

I didn’t know what to say.

Thank God, I am okay,” she continued. She showed me her scalp where there was a slight cut, and the cuts and bruises on her legs and her arms. “I lose three years of work, but you know, those three years – nothing – is worth as much as my baby sister. So you lose a charger, you delay a flight one day, two days. Life is still okay. You are still here, so don’t worry, okay?”

I nodded, tried not to cry as well, and we hugged.

That was the best gift that I could have received from anybody.

As I made a cozy nest out of my Northface fleece and peacoat on the seats in D4, I felt better even though nothing had changed. I’ll admit it wasn’t the best night of sleep that I’ve had in my life, but learning not to worry and to put things in perspective definitely helped me not to panic.

This morning, more good news! After the vendor came by with the supposed Best Buy charger, which unfortunately turned out to be incompatible as well (at this point, I have completely lost faith in the expertise of electronics store employees), another Dulles employee joined the growing ranks of people trying to help me sort through this mess. This employee booked a pseudo-flight from O’Hare to Dulles so that instead of trusting a passenger with my charger, my friend Johnny could directly check it in in a large box.

In the meantime, a random passenger in D4 (who is currently sitting across from me) overheard the whole ordeal, and revealed that he has the exact same netbook. So my netbook is back to life for at least the next ten hours, and I’m crossing my fingers that this whole pseudo-flight check-in-large-box-with-tiny-charger thing will work!

Hopefully, I’ll be able to post good news in the next few hours. Otherwise, I will likely start freaking out at 5 PM because I am out of ideas on how else to procure this elusive charger…but I’ll try my best to keep things in perspective and not worry too much.


But I am so grateful to Johnny and my family, the friends who have called and comforted (SML, LR, NT, BR – you know who you are!) and the many angels that have come into my life in the past 24 hours.

Thank you.

UPDATE 4:30 PM: I GOT MY CHARGER!!! THANK YOU, JOHNNY! PLUS, I get to stay in a hotel in Ethiopia, which means another stamp on my passport! Wooooooooo 🙂