Courtesy: Mike Murray
The title may be heavy, but it’s absolutely true. Over the past 36 hours I have experienced 4 flight cancellations, multiple rebookings, and spent the majority of my time surrounded by people within a foot of my personal space.
And it’s been surprisingly wonderful.
I initially complained across all of my social media platforms about my predicament; criticizing the airlines, patronizing the staff at the airport, though their frustration about their inability to help me was palpable.
A 45-minute airline shuttle to an unexpected overnight stay at 3 o’clock in the morning at a rundown Best Western in a rough part of Fort Myers; coupled by a few voucher meals with strangers who became my traveling companions, I came to the realization that humans are genuinely, inherently good.
Aside from the pleasantries travelers often exchange during the 4-5 minute check-in procedure at the departing gate, our group of passengers discussed the various challenges facing our unique journeys home. Everyone was empathetic, hoping that we would all find our way back, happy and safe, with the people we had described to each other. Our families, friends, all of whom were characters in our stories, waiting for us to arrive.
There were Nuns who carried the ashes of their minister back home to their Texas parish, they had flown over 20 hours from Algeria. A daughter frantically trying to make it back to her Minnesota hometown to see her father one last time in hospice, a brother flying to California to pick up his sister getting out of prison, a medical student going home to North Carolina with his freshly-minted degree in his carry-on, visibly extending over the pocket of his Versace briefcase, no doubt to quickly produce for his parents upon arrival. A grandmother, probably making her last trip to visit her children and grandkids in Connecticut-her pride about their latest violin concert as vibrant in her wrinkled expression as the photos of her 8 and 10-year-old grandchildren.
And me, a swim coach returning from Open Water Nationals. What a privilege to live the dream, to earn a living doing something that’s fulfilling, exciting, and fun. The guilt was tremendous.
These people, all of whom admittedly were experiencing things much more difficult than anything I’m working through, wanted to make sure I was ok.
In a quiet moment, I wondered what awaited each of them as we departed to separate concourses, different flights, making our own journeys back home. We live in a world that seems to constantly search for the inauthentic, the tik-tok reel, instagram story, or carefully-curated/filtered social media experience.
Within minutes of posting my state of affairs on facebook, I was inundated with offers from swim Coaches, former athletes, and families offering a place to stay, a room, meals, a car, a vacant apartment, whatever they could do for me. My phone blew up, all with the same text, “Coach Mike, how can I help?”
People are kind.
Recommendations for restaurants if I decided to drive back to Rochester, NY from Florida, hotels to check out, people to visit. I was overwhelmed with the generosity from the folks in our sport, many of whom I don’t know personally.
This article had the initial intention of recognizing how our society values and appreciates people, which I’ve found to be authentically true, but has morphed into a op-ed piece about the swim community and how grateful I am to the people and places that have helped shaped me into the person and the coach I am today.
Every parent, coach, athlete, and volunteer should take a moment and remember how lucky we are to share our love for this great sport. The swimming world is a relatively small one. I feel especially blessed to know that there are so many people who care about the connections that we have made over time.
We won’t all coach Olympians, we may never attend a national-level competition, but we are all connected by a sport that brings out the very best in humanity and that is something beautifully authentic.
I’m still not home, but I appreciate the moment, and its place in my journey.
Mike Murray is the Program director and Co-head coach of Velocity @ Victor Swim Club.