Over the holidays, the news has been filled with stories of air travel chaos. Cancelled flights, spoiled vacations, dozens of hours trapped in the airport, lost luggage, and the dashed dreams of a once-promising holiday season. It was difficult to find positive stories amidst a litany of sad and even sombre experiences, to say nothing of the economic toil caused by the travel problems. But amid trans-continental turmoil were occasional sparks of light, including one here in Saskatoon.
My friend Stephen McLeod had planned for months to celebrate Christmas on the West Coast. He booked ahead, made arrangements at both ends, and, even with warnings of travel disruptions in the air, headed to the Diefenbaker International Airport for his flight to Calgary and on to Nanaimo.
What followed next is painfully familiar: Stephen checked in for the Dec. 23 flight, which was delayed several times and then cancelled early the next morning. He spent six hours on hold with Westjet and finally secured a seat – the last one – on a flight on Dec. 27.
He headed out yet again with growing impatience after an evening of snow shovelling. Back through security, and then . . . waiting, waiting and waiting, only to have his flight cancelled after midnight. Back to the phone lines again, and another booking, this time for Dec. 29.
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Stephen was deeply disappointed that he missed his planned Christmas festivities. Instead of jetting off to the storm-swallowed West Coast, he was still at home, on his own. He made as many new arrangements as he could and hunkered down, like the other thousands of Canadians whose holiday plans lay in tatters due to extreme weather, airline challenges, and the vicissitudes of Christmas travel in Canada.
Frustrated by the delays and lost Christmas opportunities, Stephen could not settle down. With heavy snow falling in the early afternoon, he opted to blow off some steam and get a head start on the day’s shovelling. As he often did, he cleared the sideway and walkway to his house, his neighbour John’s and, when this was done, his neighbour on the other side, the 81-year-old aunt Florence.
It was here when the Gods of Christmas intervened. As Stephen shovelled toward the back entrance, he heard a dog barking behind Florence’s house. She did not have a dog but was pet-sitting for a few weeks. He knocked on Florence’s front door. No answer. He walked to the back of the house, drawn by the incessant noise of the barking dog.
To his shock and dismay, he found Florence sitting up against the back door, unable to move. He ran to her side and discovered she had an obvious leg injury. Stephen got her into her home and got her comfortable. When her pain persisted, in consultation with Florence’s nephew, Brad, they called the minor emergency pain clinic at City Hospital, which urged them to bring Florence in for a check-up.
Bigger than your average bear, Stephen carried Florence to his truck. He delivered her to the emergency unit, stayed with her until she was taken for x-rays, and reached out to Brad to let him know what was happening. When he got home, Stephen learned that she had broken her leg and was taken to Royal University Hospital, where she would remain for a few days. At 5 a.m. on the 29th, he returned to the
Saskatoon airport, yet again, this time making it to Nanaimo.
To those who know Stephen, nothing is surprising about most of this story. In the great tradition of the Canadian prairies, he is bred to help others. He is the first person to call in a crisis and the last one still working on a community project, a farm harvest, a car repair or a work assignment.
That he would jump in to help Florence is hardly a surprise, but it is a welcome affirmation of the decency and reliability of this fine man.
It is impossible not to contemplate what might have happened to Florence on that cold, snowy afternoon if Stephen had not been forced to return home because of the flight cancellations, had he not been upset by the looming loss of a long-planned Christmas, and not decided to work out his frustrations with a healthy dose of snow shovelling.
Serendipity is a bizarre and wonderful thing. In this case, the combination of a prairie snowstorm, airline chaos, and the heightened emotions of the Christmas season put the right person in the right place at the right time. Florence is back home and on the mend, and she is truly happy she has a great neighbour.
Stephen made it to the West Coast for a belated but much-enjoyed and well-deserved Christmas. And the world, as it occasionally and magically does, comes right.
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