Riding Uptown. Man on Venus. Man on Mars.

“How long to Grand Central?”

“20 minutes, maybe 30, it’s Rush Hour.”

Uber driver. Black Toyota Camry. Leather seats worn. Dashboard tanned with thousands of hours of direct sunlight.

“Your English is good. Where are you from?”

He glances at me in the rear view mirror. Reticent.

“Ethiopia, Sir.”

“How long have you been here?”

“9 years.”

“And your family? Are they here or back in Ethiopia?”

“Oh, they’re all back in Ethiopia. I’m here with my wife.”

“Do you miss home?”

Long pause.

“People think it’s easy. Here in America.” He pulls up. Polite, respectful.

I shift the conversation. We’re a few minutes out.

“You have a 4.94 (out of 5) driver rating. Wow. That’s something. How do you do it?”

“I don’t know Sir.” He smiles.

“I’m curious. Out of 10 rides, how many riders tip?” [Read more…]

Flying over I-40 S. With Lav #2.

Who’s the guy in the photo? No idea. Loved the shot, it goes up.

Does he resemble him? No. Hair color? No. Glasses? Hmmm, black frames, but not the polaroids. Body frame? Close. So what’s the connection? For some inexplicable reason, Tattoo runs up shouting “Ze plane! Ze plane!” to announce the arrival of a new set of guests to Fantasy Island. Not “ze plane” – “ze cane Boss“, “ze cane.”

I’ve been in here, this same room, a hundred times, maybe more. Always early morning, and an hour before boarding. The first flight from LaGuardia to Dallas.

Yes, we’re back talking about Lavs, after Lav #1 earlier in the week, and Lav Doors a while back. It’s the Men’s restroom at the American Airlines Admirals Club. Here, there are three certainties when you enter: (1) the smell of clean, before hundreds soil the floor with urine and slop the countertops with water and soap suds, (2) Musak pumping Chill music through the ceiling speakers and (3) Chill, like Arctic air, that triggers goose bumps on your skin…get dancing!

It’s July, 82° F, and he’s wearing a blue windbreaker.  Navy blue slacks. A baseball cap. 5’4″ tops, if stretched out from his stoop. Glasses, black frames; lenses…coke bottles. Age? ~ mid 80’s.

He’s standing at the urinal to my left. His cane, hard wood, weathered, has a silver wrapper for a handle. It leans against the wall, waiting. [Read more…]

Flying over I-40 N. With Lav #1.

airplane-black-and-white

I just didn’t know. Or perhaps I didn’t care to know. Or maybe it’s just not possible to know. How could you possibly know?

And then there’s a moment or two, when you cross that line, from passively aware or passively engaged to actually feeling. And perhaps you only feel when the suffering is so high, yours or others, that only just then do you begin to give-a-sh*t.

I’m seated in an exit row on an Airbus A3215, 1 seat back and across from the airplane lavatory: ~40” long x 34” wide x 75″ inches tall. Inches.

A Mother walks down the aisle. She grabs the back of one seat, and then the next, and the next, to keep her balance. The plane tips left and right in soft turbulence. She makes her way down the aisle.

There are two hands gripping the tops of her shoulders. She’s slight, maybe 5’2”, and stooped under the weight of the hands. The hands are owned by a strapping 14-year old who towers over her. Mildly handicapped?

She enters the restroom first, her Son doesn’t let go. She lifts one hand off her shoulder and turns to him. She slides her arms under his arms and begins to tug him in. Won’t fit. Not possible. Two full size humans in 40 x 34 x 75.

There’s silence, five minutes or so, which is interrupted by a toilet flush. She exits, pulling him out with her arms under his. She strains to extract him from the box, her face red, filled with rage.

She extracts him and pauses to catch her breath. Her Son claws after her shoulders to grab on as the plane tips. They head back up the aisle. She settles him in.

She comes hurrying back down the aisle.  And into the Lav.

It’s quiet again, now for 5-7 minutes. Then a toilet flush.

She exits. Her right hand dries her eyes, now red and swollen. She catches my glance, offers a forced smile, turns, and heads back to her seat.

You just don’t know. No chance. Not close.


Notes:

What are you going through?

All around me were strangers. I knew no one. And as far as I knew, no one had any idea what I was dealing with….As I turned away and stared at the Pacific Ocean through the little window from my seat on the plane, I was left with a bunch of grief and two big questions. What burdens are all the people on this plane carrying? And how would I treat them differently if I knew?

~ Carl Richards, from “Ask Yourself This: What Burdens Is That Other Person Carrying?”

 


Post title and post Inspired by: “I remember reading some works of Simone Veil, a French woman who lived in France during the war and she said there’s only one question worth asking anybody and that question is, “What are you going through?” ~Leonard Cohen, From Leonard Cohen interview With Stina Dabrowski (Thank you Make Believe Boutique)

Sunday Morning

A homie named Cruz spent his last dollars taking a Metrolink train sixty miles to Los Angeles from San Bernardino, where he had relocated his lady and newborn to avoid the dangers and desperation of his previous gang life. He had a part-time job but could not get his boss to give him more hours. Now he sits in my office, rattling off a list of the pressures and needs of his family. With no safety net in sight but me, he speaks of no food in the fridge, no lights, landlord looming, no bus fare. When he finishes this breathless account, Cruz stops, shaken and exhausted. He grows teary-eyed and says quietly, “I just keep waiting.”

“For what, son?” I ask.

“For the last to be first.”

~ Gregory BoyleBarking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship


Notes:

Walking Cross-Town. With an unsorted heap.

Hampl is not far from this mind. Hampl was there on my train ride to the city on Thursday and there with me as I walked across Manhattan to the office. And Hampl’s here with me today, early Saturday morning, as I sit in darkness, in silence, but for the tapping of keys, with birdsong easing through the open window bringing in the dawn.

Life is not a story, a settled version. It’s an unsorted heap of images we keep going through, the familiar snaps taken up and regarded, then tossed back until, unbidden, they rise again, images that float to the surface of the mind, rise, fall, drift—and return only to drift away again in shadow. Call them vignettes, these things we finger and drop again into their shoebox.

He shifted his legs as I took the empty seat across from him. Early 30’s. Two to three day beard. He smiled offering me “Good morning.” I’m settling in. How startling it is to be greeted with a ‘good morning’, a smile, a greeting on a morning commute. 

She was on the right side of 50. Anxious. She had to go. I mean really Go. She paced in front of the toilet. It was occupied. She knocked on the door. She knocked again. She stepped back and stood in the vestibule, waiting. She lifted her right foot, and then her left, and quickly repeated the sequence. She then grabbed her mid section and grimaced. She walked back to the toilet and knocked on the door again. [Read more…]

T.G.I.F. (from another seat)


A migrant, part of a group intercepted aboard two dinghies in the Mediterranean Sea, rests after arriving at the port of Malaga, Spain. (Jon Nazca, Reuters, wsj.com, April 26, 2018)

Driving I-95 N. With Raheim.

AA2263. DFW to LGA. Early Friday afternoon, start of a long weekend, Board flashes: “Delayed“.

It’s been a long week.

Sorry about the delay folks but we were late arriving in Dallas and we had a minor repair that we had to take care of. We’ll see if we can make up time.”

He’s makes up time.

The giant steel bird, a Boeing 737-800, does a slow gentle turn over Manhattan, the Empire State Building is adorned in red and green holiday ribbons, the stage lights of Time Square light up the hulking scrapers, the grid layout frames up the streets and neighborhoods.

The plane tilts its wings softly, leaning in towards the city. Here pal, get a closer look at the Big Apple. Whaddya think, cool right?  I’m a drop of water, a drop in something so vast, so incomprehensible…

The video monitor on the seat signals 10 minutes from destination. Altitude: 8,000 feet

A text messages flashes: “Sir, my name is Raheim. I’ll meet u at Upper Level. Text me.”  I text back: “Haven’t landed yet. Didn’t check luggage. Should be ~30 minutes.” Indicator flashes: “Read.”

Miracle. All of it.

[Read more…]

Hearing the Birds Chirp and the Wind Whistle

Strangers approach Charlen Evans, on street corners and city buses, when they notice her cochlear implant. They greet her by placing a finger just below their ear, gliding it in an arc across the cheek and stopping just shy of the mouth. It is one of the few gestures of American Sign Language that Ms. Evans understands. They are asking if she is deaf. Ms. Evans, 61, is not always sure how to reply.

Her hearing has been impaired her entire life. In school, she weathered a litany of taunts about it, and as an adaptive measure, she learned to read lips with such mastery that she likens her talent to a sixth sense. Yet Ms. Evans said she did not feel all that different from her peers, and certainly did not feel disabled. The problem was never met with any urgency at home. “My mom always said I hear what I want to hear and didn’t believe that I had a hearing problem,” Ms. Evans said. “She was a good mother, but she didn’t like to think anything was wrong.”

Shortly after graduating from high school in Brooklyn, Ms. Evans started a family, marrying a man in the armed forces. She and her husband lived on Air Force bases in Tucson and Plattsburgh, N.Y., where she worked as a teacher’s aide, a job that finally forced her to confront the reality of her poor hearing. She struggled to hear the students in her class. […]

During a hospital visit toward the end of her mother’s life, Ms. Evans had her hearing tested. “I finally decided to do it because I wanted to hear my grandchildren say ‘I love you,’” she said.  Doctors discovered that she had bilateral hearing loss, which was severe to profound in her right ear and moderate to severe in the left. She qualified for a cochlear implant and had the surgery in 2012.

After the operation, Ms. Evans was stunned by the difference in her perceptions. She experienced the everyday chatter of the world, once beyond her ken: the swishing of her pants, the drumming of footsteps on sidewalks, the chirping of birds and the whistling of the wind. “I never even knew that made a sound,” Ms. Evans said of the wind. […]

Early last month, Ms. Evans returned to Kingsborough Community College, where she is taking classes in creative writing and sign language. She wants to one day work in a classroom again, this time in service to deaf students.

“I just want to do something worthwhile with my life.”

~ John Otis, excerpts from: “For the First Time, Hearing the Birds Chirp and the Wind Whistle. The Neediest Cases Fund.” (The New York Times, October 21, 2017)

(My) Ordinary Life is Good

…Mr. Landau dismantles common myths and offers strategies to help people find greater purpose in their own lives. Systematically, he refutes the usual arguments as to why life is pointless: Since the universe is so vast and we’re so tiny, nothing that we do matters … no one will remember us; everything we do and treasure will one day perish from the earth. None of these deters Mr. Landau from his rational, philosophical argument for why each individual’s life is meaningful…

Mr. Landau notes that all such concerns are animated by the same mistaken belief: that a valuable life must necessarily be a perfect one. “According to this presupposition,” he writes, “meaningful lives must include some perfection or excellence or some rare and difficult achievements.” Those who despair of life’s meaning can’t see the value in the ordinary; only lives of greatness such as Michelangelo’s or Lincoln’s can be worthwhile.

As Mr. Landau observes, such perfectionism sets a standard for meaningfulness that is nearly impossible to attain. He mentions a talented biologist he knows who considers her life wasted because she didn’t reach the very top of her field. Perfectionism’s other, more odious, problem is its elitism: It assumes that some lives have more worth than others. Though clearly wrong, a version of this idea is deeply embedded in our secular culture. A meaningful life, we’re constantly told, lies in worldly success: going to certain colleges, landing certain jobs and living in certain communities. Mr. Landau doesn’t spell it out, but he seems to understand where this flawed assumption leads. Does the life of a child with Down syndrome have less value than the life of a healthy child? Is a retail clerk leading a less meaningful life than, say, Elon Musk? A perfectionist would have to say yes and yes. But Mr. Landau wisely points out that it’s cruel and misguided to hold ourselves or others to this standard for meaning, because it neglects each life’s inherent worth. […]

In “Finding Meaning in an Imperfect World,” Mr. Landau presents a much-needed lesson in humanity and compassion. Don’t beat yourself up if you fail to achieve your lofty goals, he urges; instead, celebrate the value of an ordinary life well lived. In the same way you don’t have to become a monk or nun to be a good Christian, you don’t have to be a Shakespeare or Rockefeller to lead a good life. Holding your child’s hand, volunteering in your community, doing your job, appreciating the beauty around you—these are the wellsprings of meaning all of us can tap.

~ Emily Esfahani Smith, in her book review titled “Review: Redefining a Well-Lived Life” of “Finding Meaning in an Imperfect World” by Iddo Landau (August 1, 2017)


Photo: Hard Rock Hotel in Pattaya, Thailand via Eclecticitylight. Thank you Doug.

 

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