| Family Tempo |

The Believer’s Guide to Getting Set Up 

I decided to chance the flight. What could go wrong?


he flight was scheduled for 6:20 a.m. originally. She had booked it back in October, when the winds were still somewhat warm, and the russet leaves whispered to each other on the trees. Jackets were dusted off and worn as fashion statements, not necessities, and she smiled optimistically as she clicked “Submit payment.” January fifth sounded like a nice, safe date from that side of December.

She idled the duration away in blissful naivete. Having marked the date on her calendar and made the requisite phone calls, she now had nothing to do but look forward to seeing her seminary friends, who had been nudging her about this for over a year, or, in productive moods, to fret pleasantly about the weight of self-imposed responsibility.

October faded into November faded into December, into January. Now there was a bite in the air, occasional snowfall. Then a glorious storm dropped luxuriously into her lap one Monday, the perfect day for lounging around.

Thursday, January fourth, the eve of the flight. She sits at the kitchen island, absorbed in a magazine, mindlessly consuming her lunch. It is macaroni, which she had cooked and stored several days before, and as she turns a page, she is enjoying a comfortable sense of being well-prepared, in that moment, for any eventuality.

Enter the lady of her boardinghouse. She looks to be in a schmoozy mood. “Did you hear about the snow tonight?” she wants to know.

“No,” the girl responds placidly, because all is right with the world when you are halfway through a bowl of warm macaroni.

“Oh, well, it’s supposed to snow tonight. I thought you might want to know. In case you had plans or something.”

One of those words breaks the noodle-y, self-satisfied trance. “Wait, snow? Tonight?”

The landlady nods. “Yes, after midnight I heard.”

“That can’t be.”


“I have a flight. I have a six twenty a.m. flight.”

“Oh, right, you said you were going away for Shabbos. Well… you know you can stay here, if you need to in the end.”

The girl can’t enjoy her macaroni or magazine after that. She finishes eating distractedly and takes no further interest in the furniture ads that had caught her notice before. She washes her dishes haphazardly and dashes upstairs to check the forecast on her laptop.

Indeed, snow, starting at midnight, ending at five. She glances at her packed suitcase, standing cheerfully beside the door. She is not panicking. Well, maybe a little bit.

She stands before the freezing window and soliloquizes:

To go or not to go, that is the question

Whether ’tis stupider in the mind to chance 

The delays and cancellations of outrageous airlines

Or to take arms against a sea of customer service agents

And by opposing get nowhere….

Believe it or not, she decides to chance it. She is rewarded, several hours later, with a buzz from her phone informing her that Flight 3618 from La Guardia to Denver, departing tomorrow at 6:20 a.m. with a stopover in Charleston, is no longer departing. Has in fact been canceled.

What is left? Take arms. She calls the service desk. The agent is surprisingly helpful and sedately books her another flight leaving at 8:30 a.m. She hangs up and sets her alarm for five thirty, schedules an Uber for six. It’s ten thirty. She has plenty of time. She clambers into bed and lies there tensely; when her alarm clock rings seven hours later, she doesn’t remember falling asleep.

She awakens into the dark, dresses warmly, and treks out to meet her ride. By the time the car arrives, she is covered in snow too cold for her body to melt, but she shivers in anticipation of her impending dampness and clambers very gladly into the car when it finally spots her.

The ride to the airport is full of talk she is too tired to comprehend. The driver makes conversation with a will; she is friendly but overwhelming, especially to an exhausted, anxious brain that is torn between falling asleep and jerking awake into vivid mental images of grounded planes and spending Shabbos in the stopover spot, South Carolina. Is there a Chabad in South Carolina, she wonders as the Uber pulls into departures. Please G-d, let there be a Chabad in South Carolina.

Her new friend unloads the suitcase from the trunk and departs, leaving the girl to gather her weary wits and enter the fray. She tries to look mature and businesslike as she enters the airport; she dredges up her confirmation number from the depths of her memory and checks in; she waits half an hour in the security line, shivering, not with cold, but with the force of her yawns; finally, she is deemed innocent enough to enter the terminal. She locates her gate and promptly curls up on a bench to sleep away the remaining hour until takeoff.

Soon boarding commences. She and her fellow passengers stand in line, bleary-eyed but pleased that things are going so well, and one by one, they file into that hallowed tunnel, the Rubicon, after which there is no going back. This flight is taking off.

Two and a half hours after waking up, she settles into her seat with a sigh. The rumble of the engine and rustle of people still boarding lulls her into a doze. She closes her eyes and prepares to sleep until Charleston.

“…cannot fly. Maintenance has not cleared this plane for takeoff. I repeat, this plane cannot fly. Ladies and gentlemen, we will be deboarding. We apologize for the inconvenience. Please wait at the gate for further instructions.”

Her eyes creak open. She is sure that she has heard wrong. But she glances around, and everywhere she looks people are grumbling irritably, pulling suitcases out of overhead bins, shuffling unhappily toward the front of the plane. Several people are already vocally plotting their Karen tirades on social media, complete with incorrect grammar.

An hour after boarding, she finds herself back in the airport. She observes with rising panic that shkiah in Denver is in nine hours, and she is very noticeably not there yet.

After several minutes of hassled walkie-talkieing, the nice flight attendant who boarded everybody gets back on the mic to inform the people that a new plane will be boarding in an hour and departing at eleven thirty. This news finds a positive reception in most of the crowd, who, after all, are not racing the sunset.

She tries to do the math but is too frazzled to factor in time zones, so she approaches Freddie with the mic, who tells her that the flight will land at two thirty, local time.

That is way too close, when Shabbos comes in at four thirty. She thanks Freddie. She sits down. She thinks about the plans she made, the people she has waited months to see, and swipes at a tear. But mostly she thinks about how annoying it was to do all this work only to discover that the wheels have been going nowhere the whole time. Now she doesn’t feel the urge to cry so much as to kick something.

But her memory comes to the rescue. It reminds her of the books she’s read and the shiurim she’s listened to and the stories she’s heard about people who didn’t make their flights. There is always a reason, and it usually shows up in the next sentence, so she just needs to be patient. Soon she will hear that the plane has exploded, or she will discover that the man next to her is a tinok shenishbah and she will find him a place for Shabbos and he will become frum, or, or….

Duh. She’s 21. Obviously, this is something to do with shidduchim. Who is going to be the key, she doesn’t know; she looks around for likely candidates.

Nobody else on this flight is frum. Okay, she thinks. I can handle a baal teshuvah. (She can handle anything! She’s getting married! She’s on top of the world!) The kallah glow settles over her face and over the terminal, bathing even the most haggard passengers in a rosy light. One of these unknown, vaguely sticky people is The Best Boy in Lakewood.

Now all she needs to do is wait. Because Chani Lustig from seminary met her future chassan’s grandmother when they missed a flight together, and she is pretty sure her cousin missed a flight once, and he’s married now. And that story from the Gishmei Brachah fundraiser also had a couple that had something to do with an airport — they both flew on planes once or something — so obviously airports are the place to be. Why people go to shadchanim or rabbanim she suddenly can’t recall, because all the Hashgachah pratis, all the zivugim, are at the airport. (And there is clearly a special segulah in missing a flight, since all the stories include it.)

Her belief in this and denial of her actual situation are so strong that she sits at the gate for hours. It empties and fills and empties again. The sun speeds across the sky; the rosy kallah glow begins to burn red. The Best Boy in Lakewood does not materialize, but several men in uniform do, and shortly before Shabbos she is removed, kicking and screaming, by airport security personnel.

(As she sits in the back of the Uber on her way home, she considers sulking. Then she smiles a little too widely as she realizes that giving G-d another chance is just a simple matter of booking another flight. Which she will conveniently miss.)

That’s the first ending.

In the second ending, which is the one that actually happened, I called my coworker, who sent an Uber to pick me up, and she and I abandoned our hometown of Kensington to spend Shabbos in Monsey with her cousins, where I had a great time even though I and did not get engaged.

I still believe that Hashem set me up that day. But Hashem operates on multiple levels. And the phrase “set up” does, too.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 888)

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