My husband and I wonder if we will have nothing to talk about if we ever go on a holiday where no disaster befalls us. It’s a theory we’re keen to put to the test one day…
There was the holiday in Italy where the builders were still constructing our holiday rental on our arrival. The holiday where the staff servicing our house were unashamedly stealing from us and we slept 5 to a bed in case they stole the children in the night. The holiday where a Malaysian monsoon stalked our every movement. The fisherman’s cottage in Padstow set in such close proximity to Rick Stein’s restaurant that at bedtime we listened to people chowing down on their red snapper and oysters. Then there was the recent trip to experience Beirut belly.
Struggling in 40 something C heat in our Middle Eastern compound this month, with 3 bored children, devoid of activity, a holiday to Greece became the carrot that got us through the summer. A little hop to Bahrain, a connecting flight to Athens and then a boat trip to the Cyclades for a bit of island hopping. Lovely job.
When we stood at the luggage carousel in Athens and our bags didn’t appear, we were in good humour and laughed to ourselves about that Rod Gilbert sketch where he travels Bryan Air and arrives to find only the handle to his case has made it. Ha ha. Imagine that. How funny.
But we weren’t as fortunate as Rod Gilbert. We didn’t even get the handles to our luggage. As the same pink suitcase kept reappearing through the flaps and we stood with 2 other unfortunates who couldn’t find their cases either, the drachma dropped. We headed to the baggage handlers to make enquiries.
‘Who were you flying with?’ asked the over-worked lady behind the counter.
‘How long was your lay over?’
Apparently, this was even funnier than Rod Gilbert’s Bryan Air flight.
‘Your bags were never going to make it in that case.’
‘Pardon? We flew Falcon Air the entire way- that was their lay over time.’
‘They take your money but not your bags.’ She’s missing from stand-up.
‘When will we get them back?’
‘There’s another Falcon flight here tonight.’
Hope rose in the dingy strip-lit hall.
‘So you’ll get your bags back in 2 days.’
‘Yes, in 48 hours. That’s what my computer says.’
‘But in 48 hours we’ll be on a ferry headed towards a Greek Island.’
She handed us a telephone number that we would ring 58,000 times in the next 24 hours and which they would answer once. We were exploring the Acropolis when they finally answered.
‘I have no more news. Go on your ferry and we will send your bags across to your island.’
I vaguely remember the Parthenon. I think I saw the Caryatids. There was probably a Temple to Zeus. There usually is on classics trips. I overheard someone say there was a theatre. Apparently, Elton and Sting have played there and probably some ancient Greeks.
I was distracted. We each had one set of clothes, which we were currently standing in. Collectively, we were sporting five o’clock shadow, unbrushed rats’ nests, shoes matted with Acropolis dust and ice-cream-stained shorts. We needed supplies.
Over a salty lunch of tears and squabbles, we decided to hit the shops. We emerged from a stressful hour with 5 of us in a cubicle looking like ‘Zara Clothing’ had become the official sponsors for ‘Holidays from Hell.’ Primary coloured t-shirts, cheery polka dots and sunny stripes only partially covered the sinking feeling that nobody cared.
No one. Not the man who ripped me off buying sun screen as we fried in the Greek heat, not the airport, nor the airline who wouldn’t answer the phone. Not the composer of the music you are left listening to whilst on hold, surely designed to make you give up.
I began tweeting in desperation. I wanted someone to listen. Anybody. The world if I could rouse it. But I don’t know how to tweet so I now just look a fool in front of my 9 followers.
We spent the rest of the day discussing what to do the next day. As it was a Sunday, we couldn’t speak to our travel insurers to get advice. My husband determined that we should soldier on with the original plan. I wanted to stay on the mainland; I had no confidence that an airline that couldn’t get our bags from one capital city to another was capable of getting them to a sleepy Greek island only accessible by boat…
My husband got his way. At 5am the next day, our alarm buzzed to rouse us for the port. The taxi driver almost refused to take us, he was so distressed by our lack of luggage. As we stood on the deck of the ferry, waving good-bye to the coastline, I wondered if I was also waving good-bye to my luggage forever. I had no faith that we would be reunited.
Weirdly, the verse I was thinking about as our plane touched down in Athens, when I still thought we were going on a relaxing jaunt, was about the nature of faith:
The reason I was thinking about this was that I was thinking about our house search. When I emailed the elder of our UK church last week about the housing highs and gazumping lows of the past month (see 2 previous posts), he replied by asking me ‘Where have you got faith for?’
I love that question. It’s what led me to look up the Hebrews quote. Where is my confidence? Where is my assurance? As people of faith, we are invited to look beyond what’s in front of us for our hope. We are invited to be assured by things we cannot see.
The whole baggage saga has kept that thought moving around in my mind. I don’t have much confidence that our bags will reappear. I am not reassured that I will ever see them again… But my faith tells me I am supposed to hope and be assured in things I cannot see.
The luggage thing is a first world problem at the end of the day. As we shopped for our Zara wardrobe, a man and his child kneeled by the side of the road in submission, bearing a cup, begging. Even our children noticed the contrast between his needs and ours. But those of us who are materially well-off can still be spiritually poor. Do we have faith? And if so, in what?
Maybe our faith is in the material. In luggage and clothing and food. In plug adaptors and mascara. In guide books and maps and itineraries. I know mine often is. When we found ourselves with no belongings, with no clear plan, I no longer felt confident or assured.
After a day on the phone, on Twitter, half distracted away from children who needed our full attention, trying to charge phones to look up our options, then realising we had no charger, I felt frayed. With the children finally in bed, as I finished a vodka and tonic with my husband, I found myself wanting a second. Like someone with an itch they cannot scratch, I reached for some relief.
Faith had been a small silvery fish all day, swimming around in my thoughts, occasionally glinting from a ray of hope. But as evening closed, sharks circled. Anxiety and stress appeared in the troubled waters of my mind.
We are old acquaintances. These sharks have lurked in my mental shadows now for years, usually caged at a distance these days but still ready for the attack when they see a way in.
The way in is created by me- when I let my confidence and assurance slip away. When I lose faith. Then the cage door opens and they swim silently out, perfectly targeting my weakest spots. Thankfully, age and experience have allowed me to recognise them, most of the time.
On the face of it, a second drink on my holidays wouldn’t have been outrageous. It would have been quite acceptable. My husband wouldn’t have thought anything of it. But as a way of medicating and soothing my emotional unrest, it would have been dangerous. I went to bed without it.
I want my confidence and my assurance to be in the eternal. In the invisible. In the Jesus who promised:
We are told we don’t need much faith. We aren’t expected to have lots. A tiny little grain, as small as a mustard seed, can produce fruits as great as a mustard tree. Faith as tiny as a minnow is all we need.
So as I look out across the sea from the fishing boat that is taking us the last leg of this trip towards the middle of nowhere, with none of our luggage, surrounded by fish and maybe the odd shark, I am left with the question: ‘Where do you have faith for? Where do you put your confidence and assurance?’