While on my way home to surprise my mom for Christmas I had a long delay in Newark.
I arrived in Newark at 5am and was supposed to head to Cleveland at 9:05am. But there was an hour of maintenance on the plane. Fine. But then a strange problem occurred – they couldn’t open the hangar door. As we all waited at the gate, the 10am departure time turned into 10:30am, then 11:15am, then 11:45am and finally 12:30pm.
I was hoping to get to Cleveland as soon as possible. I planned to visit an aunt and uncle during my four hour layover there. Each delay made it seem less and less likely that a visit was possible. Finally, when the departure date passed noon, it became impossible to meet up with them between flights.
I needed to borrow a cell phone to call my aunt. My Indian sim card didn’t work in the U.S. Earlier in the delay I sat next to a girl who seemed to be about my age. I could feel there was some awesomeness to her, some kind of positive energy, but I had no reason to talk to her. And given my jet lag and lack of sleep on the plane, I was just interested in taking the path of least resistance the whole day.
But as luck or fate would have it, as it so often does, I returned from a time-killing walk to see that the flight had been pushed back past noon. I stood looking at the board and maybe I looked disappointed. I don’t remember. But that same girl was now sitting on the floor (in a different place from before) right next to where I had stopped to observe the sign.
I think she made some joke about us never actually leaving, and I sat down. We started talking. I finally asked if I could borrow her phone and she let me use it to call my aunt.
It turns out she’s a budding Olympian! And just like me I suppose she doesn’t fit the mold in her world. She’s in her 30’s and training to compete in her first Olympics in the sport of skeleton (luge, but lying on your stomach and facing face-first).
That’s cool, but what is more amazing is everything else she has done up until now. She played soccer in college. The life of a student athlete is never easy. After college she joined Americorps, a national service organization. With them, she built homes for low income families, worked on fire safety with the U.S. Forest Service, helped restore a historic building for community use, helped a local food bank, helped prepare taxes, and worked with the Boys and Girls Club.
When her tenure was up at Americorps, she worked with the U.S. Forest Service as a wildland firefighter and then as a senior firefighter on the Eldorado Ineragency Hotshot Crew. In the winter she studied at law school and then passed the bar in 2010.
What a rich life, no? So many different experiences, so much contribution to the various communities she has lived and worked in, and, of course, she’s a wonderfully nice person.
When I return to the U.S. I am often besieged by the grandiosity, ridiculousness, and artificiality of modern American life. Instead, this time I met Morgan Tracey, a champion of change for sure.
So, Morgan, thanks again for letting me use your phone. Thanks for the conversation that confirmed my hunch/feeling that you are awesome. Thanks for helping me get my visit to the U.S. off to a great start. And thanks for all your amazing public service.
Though it may not come as a surprise, we teamed up to do something positive together at the airport. We both obtained meal vouchers from United Airlines due to the non-weather delay we were subjected to. I don’t know why, but they gave three $10 vouchers, which is way more than is needed for a meal. I got a muffin and coffee and only used one voucher. She also had two vouchers left over. So just before boarding started, we both went to the food court to find families with children to give our vouchers to. I found one, she found one, and we shocked two traveling families with our generosity.
I think people like Morgan are rare, but more common than we think. They are the unsung heroes we rarely hear about, but contribute so much of the contagious positivity that flows all around us. I hope by writing this article, I can give Morgan her due recognition, and recognize all those cut from the same mold.
Below a picture I took with her at the airport. Best of luck in qualifying for the Olympics. I’ll be following!