One of the things I love most about teaching is how you can make a difference in a student’s life which can have a lasting impact for years to come. Today was one of those days since I was invited to officiate at the wedding of one of my dear students.
The wedding was in San Francisco. My plan was to catch the first United flight out of Newark Airport at 6am in order to arrive in San Francisco by 9, rent a car, do a bit of sightseeing downtown and then make it to the wedding hall to the north of the city with more than enough time to freshen up and be ready for the wedding party at 1:30pm. I made it to the airport by 4:30am and then my day started to go downhill from there.
Let me explain.
For the first time in my life, I missed my flight. I was waiting for a United San Francisco flight at Gate C82 when my flight to San Francisco was leaving 20 minutes earlier at the adjacent Gate C83 which was obscured by construction. Since I did not see Gate C83 and my boarding pass said my gate was subject to change, I just assumed that the flight in Gate C82 was mine. Obviously, not the most logical conclusion but give me a break. I was quite tired from waking at 4am and barely sleeping the night before in anticipation of the flight.
When I tried to scan my boarding pass to enter the plane, they told me that I was trying to get on the WRONG flight and suggested that I go immediately to Gate C83. My heart dropped. I ran to the gate but my flight had already finished boarding and left the terminal. I started to panic realizing that if I did not catch another flight soon, not a likely scenario at that point, my bride and groom would not have a rabbi to officiate at their wedding. The lady at the gate suggested that I go to a United assistance center for help. I rushed to a United assistance center which had three people waiting on line for one United employee. A lady waiting told me she had already been on line for 30 minutes. I did not have the time to wait so I went back to Gate C82 and begged them to let me on the flight. But there was no seats available and there were others with the status of standby ahead of me in line anyways. I asked if there was anything that I could do. They told me there was an 8am flight at a gate all the way across the terminal. Perhaps there was room for me on that flight. I started to break out in a sweat, something that I do when I am very nervous. I felt like I had let the bride and groom down.
But then people started to do little acts of chessed that transformed my day.
A United employee on a cart agreed to drive me across the terminal to the other gate which was right across from a United assistance center. For my already travel weary legs and frazzled mind this was a lifesaver and the trip with the wind blowing in my face was so pleasant.
When I went to the United service center across from the gate for the 8am flight, there were 3 United employees assisting behind the counter and no line. The lady who worked with me was SO helpful. I told her that I was a rabbi scheduled to officiate at a wedding that afternoon in San Francisco and she really empathized with my predicament. She searched for seats on the flight. When she saw there was only one first class seat available, she called a supervisor asking if they could somehow waive the $2000 fee so I could be placed on the flight. When they said that they couldn’t, she put me as the second person on standby for the flight but assured me that since the plane was a large one, there was a higher chance some people would not show so the likelihood of standby seats opening up was very high. And anyways, I would most definitely get on the flight, she said, since God was on my side. I HAD to make it to San Francisco in time to officiate at the wedding. It was not what she did that made me feel better. It was her affect, the fact that she genuinely cared and wanted to help.
Then I went to the counter at the gate of the 8am flight. The United employee would not hear my story. She seemed to not want to extend herself to care for anyone waiting for the flight, keeping her professional distance. So I called my rabbi who besides being a tremendous Talmid Chacham is a travel veteran who flies almost weekly throughout the world as a kashrut supervisor for the OU. My rabbi answered the phone at 7am on a Sunday morning and searched and searched for other ways to ensure that I would get on this plane. He connected me to another congregant who is a United Sky Miles master who also searched for ways to help.
Then miraculously, they called the first standby passenger for the plane. I congratulated him. When I explained to him my predicament, he approached the counter. HE WAS READY TO GIVE UP HIS STANDBY SEAT TO HELP ME. Another chessed. But he didn’t have to because then they called my name. I was elated. God WAS on my side. I entered the flight, scheduled to land in San Francisco at 11 when I needed to be at the wedding at 1, pretty confident I would make it.
Then more chessed. It turned out that my new United seat was in premiere access with extra legroom and larger seats. I felt like a king. And as I greeted my seatmates, I was able to connect with each of them. The nice lady on my left worked as the education director at a synagogue in NJ. She was headed for the NEWCAJE conference. We were able to talk shop as I gave her advice on purchasing chromebooks for her classrooms. The couple on my right had a son in Oratory Prep and immediately recognized the school that I worked in, Frisch, since they played Frisch in ice hockey. Small world.
The flight was pleasant and we landed early but taxied on the runway for another 45 minutes. So I did not leave the airport until 12 with a long trip to the wedding hall to the north of San Francisco, I still needed a bit of chessed to make it on time. And then I met a kind Uber driver. The driver later told me that he really did not want to take me since he usually never drives into the city from the airport preferring the avoid the city and the traffic. He only likes to go south. He tried to call me before picking up but I did not answer because I did not know it was him and did not want to block the Uber app on my phone with a call. So when he got to me and realized that he had to drive into the city to take me north, HE TOOK ME ANYWAYS. Maybe it was because he knew I had to officiate at the wedding. Maybe because once he came to pick me up, he did not want to drop me and risk a bad Uber rating. Either way to me it did not matter. He was doing me a chessed. When one starts having a very bad day, little acts of chessed can go a long way towards turning things around.
So my message is simple. When you do an act of chessed for someone, the reason it is so significant is not just for the actual help the chessed provides. It is the fact that the recipient knows someone else cares. This can transform an otherwise downtrodden person experiencing a very bad day.
Postscript: I got to the wedding hall with enough time to freshen up, put on my suit, and perform at the wedding as the mesader kiddushin. The Chatan and Kallah were ecstatic and it was SO special. I was able to help make their special day even more special. And they never even needed to know the number of people who needed to do a chessed for me that day in order to help make their special day a reality.