Memphis Blues Can Give Your Life Purpose (If You'll Listen)

Why am I stuck in Memphis? I’ve been in four airports in the past 24 hours, which is how long I’ve been trying to get home to Colorado. I started in Fayetteville, North Carolina yesterday at lunch after an amazing day at Ft. Bragg speaking to soldiers (I got to try on the parachute uniforms of the mighty Golden Knights – don’t I look dorky?). But my flight left three hours late, so I missed my connection in Atlanta. I went to Atlanta anyway, because there aren’t many flights out of Fayetteville and I couldn’t picture myself staying in the 100 degree heat and 42,000% humidity for an entire weekend.

In Atlanta, I unsuccessfully stood by for three flights, all of which were closed to those of us with no mileage status on Delta. (Insight: I’ve gained a deep and bitter empathy with all of those travelers who don’t get the status perks we spoiled business travelers normally enjoy – flying as part of the herd humbles you like a lame dog left behind by the pack.) So Delta finally agreed to put me up in the Best Western. But the Best Western van (last of the night at 12 midnight) didn’t have any seats left, so I had to ride with the luggage in the back of the van.

At the Best Western, the elevators weren’t working, so I lugged my luggage up 11 flights of stairs to room 1111. I would have slept, but the couple in 1112 decided to share their honeymoon with me like a pair of rutting moose (meeses?). I’d forgotten all of the advantages youth bestowes on the lungs and sheer stamina. Since I never went to sleep, it was easy to make it back to the Atlanta airport for a 5:00 a.m. flight to Memphis that never left. Never even existed, because, get this, the plane had lost its peanut cart. Yes, they delayed us two hours and 300 angry connections because they were short on legumes. We all nearly went nuts, but couldn’t, cuz we had no cart.

A quick aside about why frustrating things happen to good people.

I’m not a person who thinks that everything happens for a reason, that there is a higher puppet putting me through experiences to teach me or reward me or punish me. I am, however a person who thinks that we can forge a reason out of everything that happens. As an example, if an anonymous visitor leaves a bushel of lemons on your porch, you can give their actions purpose (and therefore make your life better) regardless of their intentions. Use the lemons as batteries to power your daughter’s science fair project (alternative energy is in), grate the peels into your bitter-sweet British marmalade, or use the acidic pulp to bleach your whites naturally. Just don’t assume you were meant to make lemonade because that’s just accepting somebody else’s reality without adapting it to your life.

So if fate didn’t strand me in Memphis what purpose did I assign to being there? It took me almost six hours of B.B. King’s blues, two pulled-pork sandwiches, and three bottles of water (I had Delta vouchers for free food that I was bound and determined to use) to create my own purpose. And then it came to me – a symmetrical, logical, meaningful reason that would make it all worthwhile.

Ten years ago this month I traveled to Memphis with my new business partner to sign the papers that would lead to the complete destruction of my family’s 40-year-old business. By taking on this partner without doing my homework, I’d taken on a thief and a fraud who would steal hundreds of thousands from our customers and pin it all on me. Five years ago this month, at the suggestion of my wife, I decided to turn my experiences into a book and later, a professional speaking career that gives me joy every day. I was in that Memphis airport with so much time to spare so that I could spend a few minutes seeing how far I’ve come in a decade, to circle back to my roots, just like BB Kings music. I was there to find some closure, but only because that’s what I decided to make of the experience. Otherwise, it would have just been 30 hours without sleep, enlightenment or satisfaction.

Why are you in Memphis?