Monday, November 15, 2010

Slow Down. Feel. Practice.

Papi set the cup down on a flat rock, shivered and extended his weathered hands above the flames. He turned and looked squarely thorough me. His piercing eyes alone could have spoken everything, but he wanted to ensure that he would be heard. His voice rose above a low whisper and he continued, "We have two sides of the brain, you know. Those who attend to only one side lose big time. We exercise neither our critical self nor our feeling self. And as for the body here in this country - it's become soft; almost a lost cause."

(from The Life and Times of Papi Conpelo)

[Continuing from October. Where were we?]

Saturday afternoon. October 2, 2010.

A soft morning landing and a nine-hour layover at London's Heathrow are now complete.

I'm aboard Egypt Air Flight 778. Fully loaded, we've been airborne for some time. Tuesdays With Morrie rests in the seat pouch. A microwaved meal has been delivered. The high tech touch screen video display on the seatback forward of me has at least fifteen options to chose from. I think, "Different airline, different films, I'll eat and watch a movie."

I reach for the earbuds. They fall to the floor. This being the last seat in the very rear of the aircraft, up against both window and rear bulkhead I'm stuck - too jammed in to move - no wiggle room to find them. What now? So I open my window cover and my jaw drops. There below me extends the broad expanse of the Italian Alps. The sun, dropping fast somewhere over my right shoulder, paints its way through clouds sending deep shadows to who knows where. All right here.

The scene is stunning. I've flown countless times above the Sierra Nevada. What's to be seen there is magnificent. But I've never witnessed anything this rough or steep, dropping so far and so fast. I sit transfixed above terrain I may never see again.

By 6:20 p.m. Flight 778 is 2,400 kilometers from Cairo and flying southeast over the Dolomite Mountains. We're due north of Venice and west northwest of Trieste. The Croatian coastline and the beaches stretch out below. Our route will take us to Pula, then Zadar, then Dubrovnik.

Cloud covered patterns float faintly over the Italian boot out my window. The jagged pattern of islands west of Krk appear. "You know," I tell myself, "I could be watching the in-flight movie right now. But why?" How many moments ago did the earbuds fall to my, "Aggghrrrh!". Yet, had that not happened all of this would have gone unseen and unfelt.

Saturday afternoon. November 6, 2010.

Sunny Oakland, California. Am arriving home from a week being with family of my friend, Mac. His life halted sixteen days ago. No one saw that coming.

Rain was falling hard when I left Seattle a few hours ago. That's behind me now, but it will catch me again tomorrow. The predictable weather patterns at this time of year inform this.

Mac's going gave us all pause: we who are family and friends.

How much time do you have? To look everyday and notice what's there and what's passed you by? Knowing this, how much time do you spend actively noticing? And then taking time to consider what all of this is teaching you? Ant then taking effective action on what you have noticed? Can you read the patterns of your practices? How about the patterns of our collective practices?

Tuesday. November 2, 2010.

U.S. mid-term election day. My vote has been cast.

Wednesday. November 3, 2010.

The elections are over; the ballots counted. Those elected speak. From both sides of the aisle we hear today. "What the American people want now is for us to roll up our sleeves and get to work." Wow! How many times have we heard that after an election? Isn't that what the public servants were supposed to be doing since the last election, i.e. get to work?

Thursday. November 4, 2010.

Lots of news today! Our print and electronic media is on the job to inform us that the 2012 election is already in progress and well underway. Oh well -- so much for getting to work.

A dose of cynicism grips me. The lyrics of "Patterns" (Simon and Garfunkle) come to mind. These words trumpet our continuing politics here. Don't remember? Never heard? Try Another cynical thought floats by - sometimes, we really do live inside The Truman Show.

Saturday evening. October 2, 2010.

Egypt Air Flight 778 has entered Yugoslavian airspace. Sunlight splits the western sky above Italy. Below the world is gray. We are over Korcula and on track for Titograd. Someone has paid me to write this, but they don't know it. What I mean is: I wouldn't be sitting here today had not someone footed the bill. Would I? What about you, where would you be today if someone had paid different prices in your regard?

Another time zone. Another time. Two and a half hours behind is London. What remains of sunlight is blue on a far horizon. Names once legends in books are within view. Delphi to the west, and to the southeast lies Marathon. I find myself wondering, "What would the Oracle say of our world today, the way we live and respond?" I think of the original marathoner - Pheidippides - the Athenian herald who was sent running one hundred fifty miles over two days to Sparta when the Persians landed at Marathon, and then ran another twenty-five miles to Athens to announce a Greek victory. Who goes the distance today? Not the distance of running, rather the distance of practiced conviction and perseverance? Where would we be today without the GPS and the mobile phone, the iPad and our Facebook - and "You've Got Mail" ??. If we lost electricity for two days nation wide? If we had to communicate beyond the exchange of data? If we truly had to rely on our senses? We walk a fragile line - yet we don't respect how fragile the line is. We take tomorrow for granted.

A Friday evening. January 1975.

I'm sitting in the top floor meeting room at the Travelodge in Honolulu attending a seminar. It's almost midnight. Art Theisen, a large robust man with round nose, receding hairline and deep voice, is telling a story with great feeling. He talks of himself being a young brash pilot at the end of World War II ferrying aircraft across Europe: C-47's - the military version of the DC-3. Most of his planes were empty of passengers. But on occasions, he says, a person of importance would hop a ride.

On the morning of this particular story he gets word that two passengers will be his responsibility as he ferries a plane inbound to Athens. They are Helen Keller and Polly Thompson. He greets them as they board. Then he moves forward, goes through his pre-flight checklist, taxies and takes off. The flight will last many hours, taking an entire day.

Somewhere in mid-flight Art needs to relieve himself, so he walks the rear of the aircraft where a toilet is located. On his way back to the cockpit he passes his guests, glances down to consider what a pitiful life Helen Keller must live - not being able to see or hear or talk. Then he gets back to the controls and settles in for a non-eventful remainder of the flight.

Some hours later while he's sitting somewhat bored, Art feels the pressure of a touch on his right shoulder. When he turns to see what the pressure is he finds Polly Thompson.

"Hello", he offers.

"Hi", she responds. Then she continues, "Helen, is enjoying the trip. She just asked me to come forward to let you know. She also asked me to say how wonderful it must be to see Athens, and that the city must be golden right now in the rays of the setting sun."

Theisen sits is aghast. He doesn't know what to say He turns his face forward to look out the front of the aircraft. There below him in plain sight as it has been for many minutes (had he been paying attention), sits Athens ablaze in the light of a setting sun.

In the seminar I sit, listening to Art Thiesen finish his story. He says, "It took a blind, deaf and mute person, to communicate to this arrogant all-seeing pilot, in a way that I could see the beauty of what was there all along and in a way that I could hear."

What am I doing with the equipment (talents, eyes, ears, legs, feet, brain, voice, etc.) that is mine to use on this journey?

Saturday evening. October 2, 2010. A short while later. Egypt Air flight 778.

My face is against the plexiglass. Below, the coastline of Greece defines the Aegean Sea. Athens' lights glow brightly outside my window. On this course Cairo is not long off. I sit quietly staring. "You know," I say to myself again, "I could be watching the in-flight movie right now." A whisper offers, "But why?"

"Who are you without your toys? Are you paying attention? Do you care for and take care of yourself -really? When all becomes silent, can you tolerate the sound of your own thoughts?" I sat speechless. Holding me in his steely gaze, Papi persisted, "I asked you a question. Where is your answer? We have become addicted to toys and outcomes. Discipline and integrity, imagination and artistry, service and seeing what is there to be seen - we better watch out or these will become lost or totally compromised. And if that happens-we're screwed."

(from The Life and Times of Papi Conpelo)

©Lance Giroux, November 2010

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