Heathrow Camp Out and Small Acts of Kindness

Wowzers everyone!  I finally dusted off my passport and had the opportunity to travel again, for work and for pleasure, the best of both worlds. At the height in the pandemic, getting to another area of town felt like a novel experience, where you might be tempted to mail a postcard to yourself.  So, I have to admit it was a bit euphoric and a bit overwhelming to travel internationally again.  I have written about travelling before and I have also written about kindness, and this blog weaves the two topics together.  I often say to my clients tongue in cheek: “the universe often assigns better homework than I can dream of” and the universe delivered a first class letter to me in this experience. Signed, sealed delivered, darn it all!

If you have been following news over the summer, then you are aware that flight travel has been a bit of a logistical nightmare. We are still experiencing the pandemic, there are airline staff shortages, and suddenly, the ability to travel again.   It is kinda a recipe for disaster.   Granted, I will take that nightmare over others that are happening in the world. My flights to Europe for work were smooth as butter with the exception of no beer on the flight 🙂 , and my connections to meet my partner for a family memorial and reunion in Greece only had the smallest of hiccups. I loved every minute with my colleagues and family. Coming back home, however, was another story:

Cancelled flight.

Night in a questionable hotel in Athens that would make any OC queasy.

Delayed flight.

Missed connection due to aforementioned delay.

Cancelled flight.

No luggage.

No hotels in London under 1000 GBP available.

I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice to say we were stuck in Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport for 3 days.  If you need a handwritten detailed map of where to get the best coffee and/or the best sleeping area, do get in touch.

When we think about OC coping, what comes to mind? An easy-going attitude about adventure in a city you are not supposed to be stuck in? A “wow, what an adventure” approach to not having enough warm clothes? A “hey, I hear sleeping on concrete might improve back pain.” Of course not!  And at the same time, these were the very mindsets I needed to adopt (think Flexible Mind), but it would have been impossible without the main ingredient: kindness. 

When we discovered the first stuck night that we would be, well, stuck, we were not alone.  There were several other Terminal 5 “campers.”  And this is what I noticed:

Canada to Scotland: “Hey, I found this blanket, if you are cold you can have it.”

USA to Australia: “If you are bored, we have some instruments, do you play or do you want to hear one of our songs?”

Australia to Canada: “If you don’t have your luggage, I have some great soap you can have to wash up.”

France to Germany: “Too bad they took your lighter at security, have mine.”

India to Ireland: “We are going for a hot beverage; can we get you something while you watch your baby?”

And so forth.  This is the heart of humans – to come together when the going gets tough.  Sure, they are small pieces individually; after all no one in Terminal 5 could say “hey everyone, get on my private jet!”  And yet each small gesture was an act of kindness that belies that we are inherently selfish.  And the research supports this, in case you think this blog is getting too sappy. (Check out Rutger Bregman’s Humankind: A Hopeful History for a good read on this!)

But it was not just people in the airport who extended their kindness, it was the RO DBT list serve.  When faced with the “yikes” moment of having to bed down for potentially 3 nights in Heathrow, I put a call out:

Hi global tribe

Well, it turns out I am stranded in Heathrow Airport for 2 days, after being trapped in Athens the night before.  A very long story – it was supposed to be a brief transit, but many of my flights have been delayed and then cancelled and then the re-booking has been for Sunday!

Now, I am back in the swing of things travelling, however, what I did not account for is that I cannot get a hotel room in London.  I am trying to get in touch with a friend who lives here (but travels a lot) so that is my best hope.  However, I thought I would put it out there if anyone can put me up for a night tomorrow?  With my lovely partner? Or have a favourite air bnb they recommend to family or friends who come visit?

Appreciate any suggestions! Nicole

Part of putting the call out ran counter to 2 of my old OC rules:

  1. Never ask for help (you know, ‘cause that means you don’t know everything)
  2. Never show a need for help (you know, ‘cause that means you’re weak)

Imagine my surprise when I had 3 offers of places to stay!!  So many thanks to Hannah Blunt, Mareike Suesse and Vik Patel for offering their homes last minute. Just knowing I had an open home – however far away from Heathrow, meant the world.  And then the messages of support from Kayla Jessop, Virginia O’Hayer, David Maynard, Kristi Colwell, Helen Brice and Erica Smith-Lynch – it just felt like people had my back even if they could not offer me a bed or warm hoodie.

As Thomas Lynch reminds us, “our capacity for kindness may be rightly regarded as a preeminent human quality because it may be what makes all others possible” (2008, p.230).  My Heathrow adventure reminded me that even when the situation sucks, people come together. And thank goodness, because the opposite would not make for a hopeful world which we so desperately need right now. 

J. Nicole Little, PhD, RCC

Nicole is a therapist specializing in eating disorders and other conditions of overcontrol in Victoria, B.C., Canada. She is passionate about RO DBT, animal assisted therapy and creating through writing and collage.  She remains in remedial Flexible Mind VARIEs but her family loves her anyway.