Monday, August 7, 2017
Sunday, March 5, 2017
As I exited the train, I realized that the cart remained tethered in place, as did one fellow train rider. He was a noble, yet somehow defiant-looking gentleman of about my age, I'd guess.
Our eyes met as I neared the door. I smiled. He raised his chin in a very dignified way and pretended not to notice."
Sunday, February 19, 2017
Once contact was made, his face morphed into a radiant smile. My immediate reaction, 21st century cynic that I am was, "What is THAT for?"
Life has placed challenge in this young man's path. I learned quickly that he must be congenitally deaf. When asked about his dinner choice, his reply was LOUD and had the characteristic atonality of someone who had never heard or who had never heard well, "Whuh?". His head turned slightly and I saw that he had cochlear implants with hearing aids. I looked him straight on and repeated the choice. He beamed as he said, "bee".
His family didn't speak English, so he proceeded to help them make a decision about dinner, loudly and, astoundingly proudly. He seemed so proud to be able to help them. It took some time, but I pretended not to understand their "frango" or "carne" so that he could relay, "chi'en" or "bee".
He must have been paying attention to my interaction with "E+ guy" because when I rose from my break, he was settling his family members into the remaining open seats in D zone, making them all more comfortable. His appearance was striking. He looked like a character from Harry Potter: over his cothes he wore a long trenchcoat-looking thing made of something like black satin. It was very "wizardly" looking.
Just after the pre-arrival breakfast, he came to the aft galley to ask for more Customs forms, in English, "Coul' I ha' mo' fo'ms peaz?"
In all those interactions, one thing was constant: that smile. "What is THAT for?", I remembered thinking.
I have a pretty good idea what the smile is for. And I don't think it's any coincidence that my Harry Potter Wizard was onboard the same flight as my E+ guy.
At 56 years old, I pretty much don't believe in "coincidences" any more.
I pointed out the E+ labels overhead and said if you move to a row that doesn't have that label, there is no additional charge but we do charge extra for E+ seats.
"You mean you'd rather let that seat go empty than make a paying customer more comfortable?"
"That's not what I mean at all. There is an entire cabin behind your seatrow that is wide open. You can move to any of those seats at no charge. But "my airline-employer" does charge for the extra legroom seats."
"F-ing friendly skies. Thanks for nothing, "airline-employer name"."
There's a point where I disengage from uncivil behavior. He had reached that point.
I went to the aft galley to pickup my handheld device and returned maybe 15 minutes later, allowing him the opportunity to mull.
"Hi. Earlier I offered you a solution that you didn't seem to like. (Showing him the E+ $219 charge screen on my LINK) I didn't want to leave you with the wrong impression.
My airline-employer expects me collect for onboard services that have a charge. I'm an employee. That's one of my responsibilities. I did attempt to offer you a no-charge alternative. If you truly just want room to stretch out, we have plenty. Come with me and I'll show you. But I can't give away our products that we charge for."
He harumphed but followed me into D zone where we found 6 rows of 2 seats open and 3 rows of 3 seats, both of which would solve his problem.
"You're welcome to take any of these seats with no charge."
Grudgingly he said, "Thank you."
"You're welcome. May I ask you a question? When we first spoke, I offered this solution and you made a remark that was unnecessary and vulgar. So, I walked away. I'm curious...has that sort of thing ever worked for you in the past? It certainly took away any incentive I had to help you."
No response other than a grunt. I wished him a good rest and exited the situation. Next thing I knew, he was stretched across 3 seats in the last row, snoring.
We didn't have any other interaction and I'm comfortable with that. I wanted to leave him in his misery after our first exchange. My bottom line for going back was I only control me, not him.
Sunday, November 27, 2016
Friday, November 25, 2016
I boarded the rush-hour train north at Airport Station on a chilly afternoon before Thanksgiving and took the first forward-facing seat near the door. At Garnett, I think it was, a man about my age breezed on and took the seat perpendicular to mine, facing inward. He was dressed much more appropriately for the cold than I: a toboggan, hoodie sweatshirt, tradesman's pants (I assumed "a painter", for some reason) and comfortable-looking, well-worn shoes. He had the newspaper in his hand, opened to the crossword. So I assumed that he was looking for an appropriate word when he asked the question:
"What is a good book to read?"
"How many letters? Have you tried 'novel'?", I asked.
At first he appeared confused, then glanced down at the paper, "Oh, no. I was just curious about what you'd been reading lately. You look like someone who reads."
"Well, I seem to read a lot of James Patterson novels. Do you know them?"
"Yes, I do. They're an 'easy read'; detective stories and such. Which do you prefer: the Women's Murder Club series or the Alex Cross series?"
"One reason I like them so much is that they require very little of the reader. They're easy to put down and pick back up again. Plus, you develop a relationship with the principle characters across the series that helps move from one book to the next."
"You know, I read that Patterson only made $95 million last year. I guess he's a little off his game."
"Maybe we should start a GoFundMe benefit for him!", I said in reply.
After exchanging trivia and speculation about James Patteron's finances and those of his many co-authors, my new friend asked, "But what kind of books do you REALLY like? Patterson is more a pastime than a devotion." (Interestingly, that was my thought exactly.)
"Well, to be honest, I've always been a huge fan of Fitzgerald, though he's a subject I haven't thought of or discussed in a while. His romantic style is sort of out of favor these days."
His eyes lit at the mention of Fitzgerald's name. "The only one of his books I've ever read is GATSBY. But I loved it so much that I read it over and over again. Isn't it interesting how tragic Fitzgerald's life became? He had everything...very much like Gatsby. And what was his wife's name?"
"Zelda. The parallels are fascinating. If you have the chance, you really should read some of his other work."
Then, he segued, "Did you ever read THE ROAD?"
"Cormack McKenzie, was it?"
"McCarthy. It was so brutal and in your face. It was the most beautiful thing I've ever read. Do you think people are really like that?"
Just then, the man crossed his left ankle over his right knee, the bottom of his foot clearly facing in my direction. I don't think that my face gave me away in my utter surprise and shock. Where there should have been a shoe sole, there was nothing. I didn't want to stare but at first (and last) glance, it looked like nothing more than the bottom of a foot covered in a filthy sock. What? My entire perception of the "reality" of this meeting and conversation suddenly changed.
"...so naturally, I'm anxious to read some of his other books. What was that movie that did so well based on one of his books?"
"Ummm, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN."
"Yep, that's it. They say that that Spanish actor really did a nice job in it."
The train had progressed quite a bit on our journey since the beginning of our literary conversation. Suddenly, with no advance warning or introduction of intent, my train-mate rose from his seat. The train slowed as we neared Midtown station. We stopped. The doors opened. He turned and exited.
Our conversation was over. Our relationship had ended. Is something wrong with me that I feel sad about that?
Adjectives and adverbs are the words we use to describe, to account for, to attempt to ally others to our view and our opinion. Which? What kind of? How many? When? Where? How? I wonder at how different our world might be with only nouns and verbs.
The man I met and spoke with on the train wasn't my superior or my subordinate. He was neither rich nor poor. He wasn't a homeless man. He wasn't an "altered" man. He wasn't an erudite man. He wasn't a well-read man. Though I've described him subsequently as all of those things. In those moments, in our unique reality together, he was really none of those things. As uncertain as I am about what "kind" of man he was in that situation, I'm equally uncertain about what "kind" of man I was in that situation.
He was a man. And so was I.
Monday, September 26, 2016
When my dad died on Labor Day 2012, he and my mom had just celebrated their 56th wedding anniversary a few weeks prior. To contemplate spending so long with one other person, faithful to one other person, committed to one other person, caring for and about one other person is beyond "possible" for many, beyond "likely" for most. Their 56+ years together weren't perfect but perfection is not the nature of life. Neither is perfection the nature of happiness with another person. Happiness is a fulfillment born of wanting for another more than wanting for self. Differences and challenges provide a tension that encourages growth, both separately, as individuals, and together, as an unique entity.
56 years is a rare achievement. Yet my (paternal) grandparents were married for 73 years before my grandfather preceded my grandmother in death by only days. Both were well into their 90s. I have no doubt that Mom and Dad would have challenged that longevity absent the unpredictable influence of fate; in this case, cancer. Dad and Mom didn't both survive that challenge together. But the love they share did.
So should I be surprised that as I wake today, I rise to celebrate my own 30-year commitment with one whom I have described as "the best person I've ever known"? When I consider our milestone, the years fly by like nanoseconds, punctuated by the bright flashes of opportunities, some victories, some insurmountable challenges that helped us to grow...together. Like every other couple, we have faced darkness and difficulty along with light and comfort. Unlike many, we withstood the ravages and grew closer to what has ultimately become "us". At every juncture, there were choices to be made. We did the best we could. We survived. We persevered. We thrived both because of and in spite of whatever circumstance had in store for us. In typical fashion for us, we spend today's milestone in separate hemispheres but we are far from separated.
Contrary to anything I would have ever believed possible or likely, we nurtured a young life in our home. What a responsibility. What a privilege. What a blessing. If ever you want to challenge your committed relationship, bring the responsibility of caring for another life into the mix. Parenting is the ultimate test and most important job that anyone will ever face in my estimation. If anything, maybe we tried too hard. I believe there was an expectation that we would fail. Looking back now, I think we did just fine.
"Thirty years" means that we likely have more days together behind us than we do ahead of us. That is a sobering realization. Advancing in life with the one you love is like sharing a bottle of fine wine. The exuberance and anticipation at the pop of the cork are replaced with savoring and appreciation as the bottom of the bottle becomes a clear inevitability.
Love. (Please take note that this lover of adjectives has allowed that simple, 4-letter noun to stand on its own merit, just as it should). Love, in all its guises, is humanity's prime directive. As pivotal as it is, love alone is not enough to sustain a successful relationship over time. One element is even more integral to success and it is a gift that the one selflessly bestows upon the other. If love is the cosmic force that draws two souls together, then respect is the universal superglue that bonds them.
Respect is the force that allows us to accept and even to defend the differences between ourselves and those we love. It is the recognition that two entities don't have to be (and maybe shouldn't be) clones of one another to form a lasting bond. In the end, our diversity is our greatest strength. It allows each of us to bring to bear our unique powers and make our bond together more impervious. Respect is that most critical of things, that most common of things: a simple choice.
On this special day, I'd like to conjure an indelible image from my childhood memories...
Mom, Dad, David and I often visited Dad's parents at their farm home. We usually went after supper but knew not to arrive too late. My grandparents retired with the Sun and the chickens, as most folks did whose lives were inextricably tethered to the land.
There, in the fleeting remnants of the day, we'd quietly arrive on their familiar front porch. My brother and I would sneak a peek through the lace curtains of the front room window to see what we almost always saw, what we had come to expect to see: Papa and Granna sitting closely together in their chairs, side-by-side in front of the dying embers in the fireplace, sometimes revisiting the events of the day, sometimes just basking in the glow of one another's company and the waning light and warmth of the fire.
An idyll of contentment.
From an early age, I knew what real happiness would look and feel like. I thought I recognized it on this day, thirty years ago.
I still do.