Sunday, June 29, 2014

"I got what I came for."

The Saturday before July 4th had become something of a tradition in the Reece family; the children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren of Harold and Alma Reece and anyone lucky enough to be dear to them.  My family had begun to convene, reunion-style, at Dad's Ellijay, Georgia heaven-on-Earth every year to celebrate "being", for lack of a better term.  I think my parents dreaded the event as much as they eagerly anticipated it, since hosting 100+ can be a tall order, even in an open field beside a lovely mountain stream.  But few things brought Dad the joy that this weekend did.  It was an honor to be there and to share that joy.

Two years ago, on this weekend in 2012 was very different.  My Dad underwent surgery to remove cancerous growth on his brain.  We had every reason to believe that procedure would be the end of his life.  As it turns out, it was the definitive beginning of his end.

I was able to be with him and with my family thanks to the memorable efforts of a very special Delta employee named Dora, whom I've only seen once or twice since.  Dora (last name unknown) will always occupy a special place in my heart and prayers.  How different things might have been without her.

Dad survived his surgery in typically jaw-dropping fashion.  But he didn't escape the final few steps of his path.  They were difficult for all of us, to say the least.  Dad took those steps with his characteristic, uncomplaining plodding gait right to the end.

I've said it before but will do so again and again:  My Dad was likely the most unexpected teacher for this student of life with a fire for learning, discovering, knowing.  We were alike in many ways but different in just enough ways to make our journey together a struggle, as much for him as for me!

In the final analysis, if there ever is such a thing, Neal Reece taught me the most important lesson I'm ever likely to learn.  He taught me how to face my fate with dignity and grace.  It's a tough lesson to learn.

I can only imagine how difficult it was to teach.

Friday, June 27, 2014

"I miss..."

Against the odds, my point in posting was to focus on those meaningful, dear things that will most likely NEVER be the same. I feel like I've been at a 4 year funeral but the grieving is endless!

It's a funny thing about loss. Until you stop denying it and embrace the loss, admit to the universe how profound and permanent it is to you, you're unlikely to move past it.  Sometimes just saying (or writing) the words "I miss..." can get the ball rolling.  Then, just go where the feeling takes you:  some cry, some scream or lash out, others rationalize, trivialize or demonize. There are even those who express their grief by writing.

But until the loss is acknowledged and dealt with, the future is "on hold". 

Grieving the loss of something fundamentally important in your life is a prerequisite to moving on with your life.  If there's no chance of getting it back, face it, grieve over it and let it go. 

Let. It. Go.

Accepting that life as we knew it will never be the same is terrifying but can also be exciting and certainly life-altering:

How awful, "My life will never be the same."

But how exciting, "My life will NEVER be the same!"

Since we can't go back, what's next?

"When there's no turning back, then we should concern ourselves only with the best way of going forward."

  -Paulo Coelho

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Departures: Another step on the path (Part ?)

I woke this morning (at 4:30) to some pretty profound thoughts and feelings.  Doors open.  Doors close.  Beginnings.  Endings.  Our lives are the very definition of transition.  From the moment of birth, conception even, the constant state of change that typifies our existence is set into motion.  The process culminates with our demise...or does it?

Philip, Maxxi and I are preparing to leave Pensacola this morning and return to Texas, our month-long mission a success.  The mission didn't go according to plan (when does it ever?) but it was certainly successful.  "Blew Inn" is up and running and surpasses our expectations.  Fom the moment we walked through the door on the day it was set in place, it felt like home.

Ironically and in a totally unforeseen turn of events, we learned at the mid-point of our planned move-in month that the tenant at our "shotgun house" in downtown Pensacola had suffered a catastrophic life event and could no longer afford to remain there. In hindsight, how serendipitous that we were here, in Pensacola!

Without going into great detail, at the age of 65, our tenant's husband of many years, also on the lease, quit his job and announced that he was leaving her, taking his physical and financial support along with him.  "M" was left to fend for herself with a disability income of $783 per month.  That's it, unless you include the few meager possessions that she was left with.  (In the process of communicating the situation to us, M disclosed that they had divorced years ago but continued living together "not as man and wife.")  Given that we had already stabilized the rent for the last few years at $750, far below market, M's situation was untenable.

To protect our interests and hers, Philip used local connections to see what we could do to help an understandably distraught woman in crisis.  As it happens, Philip may have saved her.  When she finally found the courage to disclose her situation to us, she had no food, no money and very little hope.

Philip learned of a government-supported development specifically for seniors with limited incomes that had an unusual reputation:  clean, well-maintained, respected in the community, and very, VERY difficult to get into.  It appeared that M qualified but she had to meet a rigorous set of entry qualifications AND there was a waitlist.  By virtue of her qualifying circumstances and the fact that she is a fastidious record-keeper, M was "fast-tracked" and was offered an apartment within 2 weeks!  The rent for her new 600 sq foot home is 30% of her monthly income and includes all utilities except for electricity, which is around $50 per month.  Who could have foreseen such a happy ending?  She is over-the-moon.  (As an indication of the nature of our relationship with M, though she has siblings and children, when she completed the entry application, she listed Philip as her emergency contact.  Appropriate, don't you think?)

Moving day was poignant...and telling.  We sometimes demonstrate our inability to cope with our reality by simply not participating in it.  M was a perfect example:  with 2 or more weeks to prepare, the movers we hired found her largely unorganized and unpacked.  Five hours later, the lion's share of the move was completed but much was left to be done.  The significance of the events taking place in her life had overwhelmed her, I guess.  Yet, there was no denying that she had fallen backward into the best possible fortune, given her circumstances.

Since we have a mortgage on the property which must be serviced, Philip and I were anxious to clean and prepare the shotgun for whatever and whomever comes next.  With our small trailer in tow, we collected M early in the morning with a commitment to help her finish up and get everything she wanted to keep with her.  In spite of knowing that we were "doing the right thing" and helping all we could, there was an overwhelming sadness that went with the sweat and strain of finishing the move.  Of course, an afternoon cloudburst once everything was on the trailer was the frosting on the cake.  But at day's end, M was in her new home, safe, secure, and ready to address her future.

And so were we...

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Magic at Work!

Today at work bordered on magical; it was like a closely-held belief fulfilled. On Flight 1 from Houston to Tokyo, our crew demonstrated how it's possible to pull success out of the clutches of the atmosphere of failure that surrounds us. 

In our briefing, the captain emphasized that we would be flying fast since flight 1 was made a focus after gathering customer complaints as a result of missed connections in NRT due to chronically late arrivals. Who could fail to note that flight 1 was recently "re- timed", DELAYING departure by 15 minutes? (Even though the affected NRT outbound connections bank timing was unchanged). 

"Is this airplane equipped with wi-fi?", I was asked by two different B-zone customers during boarding, one of whom was a very disappointed 1K when I answered.  "How can I be disconnected for 14 hours?", he said, as anxious as he was sarcastic.  Who could disagree that an approach that first equips smaller, relatively short-range equipment with satellite wi-fi seems questionable?  (All wide bodies are scheduled for completion by the end of 2015; little consolation for him). 

Several customers were directly impacted by yesterday's monumental weather assault on IAH. I overheard that more flights were cancelled in IAH yesterday than on any single day in the airport's history. 

So far, does this sound like a recipe for success?  Maybe not. But then, the cabin door was closed. 

From the moment that the words "Flight Attendants, prepare doors for departure, cross-check and stand by for all-call" were uttered, success was ours!  We were in our element, doing what we do, making the difference that we've been trained for. Most importantly, we believed in and supported each other. Does anything feel better?!  (OK, be reasonable. You know what I'm talking about!)

The ever-critical galleys were staffed by 3 of the best:  Julie, Donna and Grace. The aisles were nothing but unflappable, unyielding people-pleasers:  Yuka, Sylvia, Robin, Mitsue, Vicki, Yoko and Rosey (oh, and me!).  And when it comes to onboard leaders, our Paul is a superstar!

We didn't solve all the problems in my airline employer's world today. We just did what we do, what all of us are capable of doing.  We dominated our realm of control and prevented extraneous factors from stealing our thunder.



I have no doubt that we'll pull another rabbit out of the hat tomorrow on flight 6, come what may. 

Who is the FACE of MY AIRLINE?

"Hello.  Welcome to XXX!  My name is..."

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Milestone: Testify!

"Cheery" is not a word I would use to describe my workplace these days.  Circumstances have made it very much the opposite, generally speaking.  A recent edict from on-high, reducing staffing on our workhorse international aircraft and eroding our ability to provide excellent service as a result, makes "cheery" an ever more elusive state.

That edict was the thesis of a post in a social media group that I help administer.  Its author suggested that "Pastor Reece" would need an epic "revival" to help with this issue.  After addressing the issue, I suggested that the word revival evoked vivid memories and images for me and asked the question, "should I expound?"  A positive response to my question elicited the following:

"At Arbor Hill Baptist Church in Cherokee County Georgia, revival is traditionally held in mid-July, when summer is at its most tempestuous.  As a child, I felt God's breath on the back of my neck, warm at the beginning of service, cooling, almost chilly, as the inevitable evening thunderstorms rolled in as service reached a crescendo. I mentioned that our revival was held under the arbor. That arbor was and is to this day a huge, timber frame structure whose roof is sheathed in corrugated metal. The posts and beams were rough-hewn from local timber in the 1800s. The hard, purposefully-uncomfortable benches were also hewn on-site. The comforts of the congregation were not the primary concern of those in charge (further evidenced by the outdoor "conveniences" in service until the late 20th century). 

At service time, sometime after "supper" (the evening meal in the South), temperatures were in the 90s at minimum. The funeral home- furnished church fans (hardened paper stapled to a Popsicle stick) did little to abate the inferno. 

As benediction was said (sometimes, a "spirit"-enthused hour), I would silently pray for rain. By the time the visiting preacher ascended to the pulpit, the clap of thunder and flash of lightening had begun. God is great!  The storm was usually preceded by a gush of cooling wind, announcing the coming relief. 

Imagine the wonder of an 8-year old, raised in the faith of fire and brimstone when God's nightly show started!  "Awesome" has become such a trite expression through overuse and abuse. 

Through the eyes of a child, THAT was AWESOME!  I remember the change in the smell of the air as lightning flashed and it became infused with ozone or positive ions or whatever God used to make it smell so heavenly. I can smell it as I sit here typing on my phone with just my right thumb, 46 years later!

(I was sitting standby for a Delta flight from Atlanta to Houston when typing the above.  The below was written once onboard & in flight.)

Lest I give the impression that my approach to my revival experience is cynical, let me assure you that nothing could be further from the truth.  Much of who and what I have become has a direct link to the Southern Baptist tradition.  Conversely, I've had to overcome many of the stigma and assignations Southern Baptistry places on me and people like me in order to thrive in life.  Isn't it ironic?  That which is intended to give one spiritual succor takes it away at the very same time!

Thanks to Delta's hospitality (19C) and inflight wi-fi, I'll continue with the revival experience...

The sweetness of the relief (rain) from hellfire and damnation (July heat) was tempered by the very literal soul-pounding of the crashing thunder, streaking lightening and fiery rhetoric from the altar.  At a young age, I was very aware of who and what I was and even more attune to my tenuous standing in the eyes of my church and community.  My spiritual guides had this young boy believing that the thunder and lightening were God's address to the abomination that I represented in His eyes.  I cannot adequately express the self-loathing that a child of 8 is capable of feeling.  God knows ALL, especially one's deepest secret.

One night, the service was mercifully short, as was the evening thunderstorm.  The thunder rolled into the distance quickly, followed by the flashing skies and ominous clouds.  As the Sun began to set, the sky parted and radiated crimson on the remaining, dispersing cloud-cover.  The same clouds which had seemed so threatening earlier, seemed so much friendlier, almost gentle, forgiving.  The cloud shadows formed in the setting sun formed recognizable shapes and objects.  The air had "that smell". 

That was the night that I finally felt I would be okay, that my life would be worthy.

God was transfigured in my life that night and it had very little to do with the revival.

When I return to the arbor these days, the memories flood back:  I can almost see Reverend McGaha wiping the froth (literally) from the corners of his mouth with a white handkerchief.  I smell the fresh pine sawdust on the ground, smell the communal body odor of simple, honest, God-fearing people fulfilling their commitment to God and their community. I taste the icy cold water drawn from a well and shared among all the children using the same enameled tin dipper, one at a time.

I momentarily feel the angst of an 8-year old sinner, forlorn and damned.  And then I look up to the sky and remember.

It will never be that way again."

I found the following link in my Facebook feed this morning.  Coincidence?

Not to me...