Thursday, November 29, 2012

Doing the numbers

37:  percentage of nights spent away from home since mid-September (30 out of 80)

6:  number of nights C got to go with me

18:  number of "wheels up, wheels down" flights

7:  cities visited (not counting airport layovers)

5:  states visited

2:  countries visited (US and Canada)

4:  Faithwalking retreats

1:  road trip with much-loved friend that I rarely see

0:  trips to Kansas City (it turned out to be Wichita)

100:  percentage of my life that I really, really love

Monday, November 19, 2012


When I was a little girl, I used to stare at my cat, wondering what he was thinking about,  lying still and calm, only mildly irritated by the curiosity of his small owner.  I couldn't even imagine then what I eventually concluded:  that he was mostly thinking about nothing.  I still can't.

On Saturday, as I looked out the car window as we were leaving Houston, C asked me, "Is your head noisy?"  I smiled at him, "Yeah . . . can you hear it?"  He laughed.  "Are you kidding me?  The people in the next car can hear it!"  I could absolutely imagine the teenaged boys in the car alongside us able to hear the cacophony of my thoughts as clearly as I could hear the bass line of their music.

My head stays pretty noisy, mostly thinking about what I need to do next or tomorrow or eventually.  It  cycles through recent conversations with people, undergoing the torment of second-guessing and self-recrimination, and sometimes it lands on fond thoughts about the people I love.  Occasionally, the inner dialogue is a creative one, full of new ideas or intriguing variations on old ideas.  I love it when that happens, but it's still hard to hush when it's time to rest or pray or focus.  I've mostly given up on the contemplative pursuits but it's never too late to try again.  I would love to be rid of "the monkeys in the banana trees," as Henri Nouwen called them.  In the meantime, if you can hear my noisy thoughts before you even see me coming, I won't be surprised.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A matter of perspective

Last week, I found myself on a little regional jet, traveling with our team to Albany, NY.  About 30 minutes after we left Detroit, the pilot announced that he didn't like the readings he was getting from  one of the engines and that we were turning around to land back in Detroit.  The already quiet plane got even quieter.

The woman on my left kept complaining about her son and daughter-in-law (whom she was going to visit) while the woman on my right was breathing deeply into her hands, obviously panicked.  I wasn't feeling so great myself, as my hands were shaking against my will and I was nauseated.  It helped to look across the aisle at one of our team members, who kept calmly eating his sandwich and reading his magazine.  The man behind me summoned the flight attendant, demanding to know how the airline was going to get us to our destination and when that would happen.  I heard her voice tighten as she said very firmly, "Sir.  We are making an emergency landing.  I. Don't. Know."

I just had to laugh at human nature in all its variety when we ended up back at the gate in Detroit.   Some of the passengers on the plane were frankly annoyed and aggravated at the change in plans.  Others were all but kissing the ground, glad to be safe.  When we reboarded the plane a couple of hours later, I found myself sitting by the same woman, still complaining bitterly about her relatives and now adding the delayed flight to her list of resentments.  I personally shared the opinion of the woman on the other side who expressed gratitude that we were safe and that the captain had put our safety over other practical considerations.

The whole experience reminded me of another trip on another regional jet back in the spring.  The little boy across the aisle from me had gone to the bathroom when the pilot announced that we were going to be running into some severe turbulence and he was asking the flight attendant to take up all the drinks and food and sit down.   Again, the plane got very quiet as people became tense.  When the little boy got back to his seat, he asked his father, "What's going on?"  His father said with some bravado, "Well, the pilot says it's going to get really bumpy."  The little boy raised both hands in the air and said,  "Yay!!"

I'm really grateful to my parents who both taught me consistently that while I can't control what happens to me, I can control how I look at it and can control at least some of my attitude about it.   They showed me how to look at things from different perspectives and to choose my response wisely.  Other than their unconditional love, that was the best gift they gave me as I was growing up. 

Others, like the counselor I saw at BU my freshman year and author Victor Frankl (whose writings powerfully influenced me in my early twenties), just confirmed this idea, that we have far more power than we imagine to frame our experiences and to choose our meaning.  And then something happens that just reminds me how true it is that life is just a matter of perspective.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Interesting people

One thing about traveling:  you meet some really interesting people.  Just from this last round of trips:

There was the young man who was tattooed all over in green fish scales.  His head was shaved and ever visible inch of skin was green and tattooed with tiny individual scales.  I didn't actually get to meet him (he was in first class) but I smiled at him and I would have given anything to hear his story.  It did occur to me to wonder whether it would have been rude to ask him if he had been my seatmate.  I mean, I know you should never comment on people's appearance, but you don't cover yourself in green fish scales if you're trying to stay obscure.  Thoughts?

Then there was the woman I chatted with while they fixed our plane at the gate in Houston.  She was very interested in  nutrition and she was a nurse and so I asked her what one thing a person should take on if they want to address their health.  She had some really interesting thoughts and she was so enthusiastic and knowledgeable that I was truly inspired.  She had me ready to make a couple of commitments that I had been pondering anyway . . . and then she kept talking.  She talked at length about how bad our Austin food (barbecue, tex-mex, etc.) is for us and then about not really caring much about the taste of food and then she got onto chemicals in our food and when I got out a piece of gum for landing, she chastised me for that.  By the time the plane landed, I was craving a cheeseburger infused with aspartame and a hormone-laden milkshake.  Immature, I know, but I wasn't feeling so inspired anymore.

My favorite conversation lately was with Israel, a young Hispanic man who doesn't fly often and vacillated between anxiety and wonder.  (He took lots of pictures out his window with his phone which I thought was really endearing.)   I think it helped his nervousness to talk (I get that) and so he told me about his parents sending him to Texas from Mexico alone when he was 14 so that he could go to high school.  He fended for himself, getting help from a church in McAllen.  The church provided spiritual support, friendship, adult supervision and food and money from time to time and he became a youth worker when he graduated.

He told me that, because he didn't have papers, he could only work on construction jobs and in restaurants but he worked hard, saved his money, and spent his spare time working with teenagers at his church where he met a beautiful girl who also worked with kids.  They fell in love (his face just glowed as he talked about her) and they got married.  Now they serve this church together and teach teenagers how to find their way in the world, to stay off drugs and stay away from gangs.  Israel told me he got a call that day from a young man who had grown up under his mentorship who needed advice about buying a car because he just sensed that the car salesman was lying to him because he was unsophisticated.  The salesman was lying and Israel walked the young man through the car purchase.

Israel's immigration status changed when he married and he used the money he had saved to buy a small Farmers insurance company.  He told me he had always wanted to be "a professional" and hoped to go to college now.  He and his wife have two beautiful baby girls and give all their free time to their church teenagers, so he doesn't know if that will happen or not.  I told him I thought he already was a professional, as a businessman, and that I thought he was living an amazing life.  He considered that and then nodded, quietly satisfied, and invited me to his church.

Friends don't call friends morons

Some of you are upset because your Facebook friends have unfriended you because of your political posts during the election.  "They just can't handle the TRUTH," you sputter.   Maybe they are thin-skinned or willfully blind to the truth of your position.  May I just offer one other possibility?

Maybe when you post that people who believe *political position* are morons or idiots or brain-dead or traitors or colluding with Satan, your friend who believes *political position* realizes that you are talking about him.  Maybe he realizes that you're too nice or too clueless to call him names to his face but after a few of your posts, he sees what you really think of him.  Maybe he unfriends you because his feelings are hurt or maybe he realizes that you don't see him as a true American or as someone with the right to his opinions or someone with whom you can agree to disagree.  Maybe he realized you aren't really a friend.