Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Life - An Eyewitness Account

Permanence is an illusion.

That illusion is a tether that we hold tightly in the knowledge that this precious, fragile gift of life is anything but permanent. When life is over, the only thing of significance, of any permanence, that we leave behind is what we have done for others.

Our friend, our brother, Barry, was that rarity of rarities:  a human being who shared himself fearlessly. To us, he leaves his smile, his laugh, his advice, his experience, his endless stories, his remarkable, timeless sense of chivalry, his love of beauty, his adoration of song.  Barry offered himself without qualification or judgment and left the world better for it. While others lagged in fear or mistrust, he stepped forward, hand extended, smile beaming, to exuberantly welcome that which lies ahead. He knew the secret: we are all family, after all.

As our world becomes ever smaller, the reticence to share of self becomes greater; vulnerability has become an aberration.  The example of what it means "to be human" that Barry epitomized becomes rarer still.  Barry was a "Mensch", a human being in the truest sense of the word.  And we will miss him terribly.  Our world will feel his loss.

In October, Barry quoted Kathie Lee Gifford in her time of mourning:  "Don't dwell on your loss...be grateful for what you had."  Barry added, "I know it is easier said than done, but we should always learn from and appreciate the past, live in the present, and embrace the future."   

Barry, we who love you commend your spirit into the waiting arms of your Creator who sees all, who knows all, who forgives all, who loves all. You are very much His child. He will know you and welcome you to that perfect place of love and peace and seraphic song; 

Permanence, at last.

One day, we will join you there and we will all be together again.

Peace be with you all.

"Evensong",Sint Niklaas Basilica, Amsterdam, December 2014

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Going Home

We've led the life of nomads.

Before meeting Philip, I lived on Gears Road and Champions Green in Houston, Hahaione Street, Kuhio Avenue and Hobron Lane in Honolulu.  Together, Philip and I have lived on Brown Way in Manoa Valley, Lalo Kuilima at Turtle Bay, Fieldtree Drive in Humble, Breezin Court, Walden Elms Court, Wynnoak Circle, Herald Oak Court and Kittiwake Court in The Woodlands, as well as Camden Road in Lincolnville, Maine, Syrcle Drive, Davis Street and Baublits Drive in Pensacola.  17 homes in 32 years, move after move after move after....

The final move is upon us and it is the fulfillment of a 25+ year plan.  On or about the 15th of December 2015, Philip, Maxxi, Lulu and I will be packing up for the move to a 2 bedroom, 2 bath condominium in the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta.  We will divide our time between Atlanta and "Blew Inn" at Navy Point, Pensacola, in close proximity to both our families.  Since Philip only has 2-3 more years before retiring, now seemed like the best opportunity to settle in to our retirement lifestyle, while we still have the vigor and motivation for such an undertaking.

As I write, a work gang is hammering away on the new roof at Kittiwake Court where hail damage was discovered during the property inspection.  Nearly every aspect of this particular move has flown in the face of conventional home buying and selling wisdom; from time of year, to market realities, to the number and scope of obstacles to be overcome in the process (the roof replacement being just one).  When we submitted our "contingency" offer on the Atlanta condo which so perfectly fulfilled our wish list, our agent's broker intimated to her that "it will never survive the due diligence period", meaning that there was no way the seller was going to remain faithful to our offer when something better came along.  I think the broker underestimated the influence of a personal relationship, like the one that Philip, my best friend Steve, my mom and I cultivated with the sellers during our 2 visits to their home, soon to be ours.  It may be unconventional for real estate buyers and sellers to have personal interactions but it felt right to me and obviously, to James and Connie, our sellers.  In subsequent days, Connie has instructed her broker that she, James, Philip and I will work out the niggling details that often accompany home ownership transfers.  And we have.

The terms "house" and "home" are not equivalent in our language, nor most others.  Philip and I have lived in many houses.  Only a few felt like home.  We left those that did with regret; we remember them with fondness and nostalgia.  The others felt more like glorified hotel accommodations, frankly.  What is the difference?  Often it involves events and other people.  Sometimes, it's just an indescribable feeling.  In any event, the difference is noteworthy.

I remember the feeling I had when Connie, the owner, first opened the door to the condo on Lenox Road.  It was warm and welcoming, like Connie.  The place had a soul and a personality.  It felt perfectly appropriate that its owner was showing us around, rather than her agent.  It's well-located, one level, high-ceilinged with large windows, spacious, updated, secure, well-priced, a niche of pastoral calm in the hustle-bustle of the big city.  It's exactly what we were looking for.  But it was the feeling we got when we walked through that door that sold us.  I think that all three of us, Philip, Steve and I, were sold immediately.  Our agent arrived after we'd seen most of the rooms and was somewhat flabbergasted at the relationship we'd already built with Connie and James who, coincidentally, are moving up one floor in the same building to a larger unit.  Philip said it best, "it just felt like home".

During our first visit, we also met several of our potential neighbors, all of whom were warm and welcoming.  Laura, who'd been sitting at the concierge desk when we entered the building, is a long-time resident who was relieving the concierge for the day so that she might attend a family function on a scheduled workday.  We learned later that Laura's adult daughter is a federal judge in Houston.  Every detail served to confirm our initial feeling.  Beautiful building, great location, perfect unit, wonderful people.  Home.

At 7:54am on a Saturday morning, I'm watching some very industrious roofers (they didn't stop hammering until dusk yesterday) as they help us to meet a very improbable timeline as we embark upon what will likely be the most momentous move of our lives.  Undoubtedly, more obstacles lie ahead.  Surprises, often unpleasant ones, are the hallmarks of big moves.  Philip and I will meet them as we always do:  with determination and resolve.  This is no hill for a climber.

No matter how seemingly perfect, it isn't "place" that makes a house a home.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Paris is always a good idea...

Our boy, Joaquin, traveled with Philip and me to Amsterdam this week, his first time in Europe.  While we had a wonderful time together in Holland, we knew that he wanted to visit friends in Paris, both for the friends and for the city.  As they say, timing is everything and we weren't exactly supportive of the idea.  But Joaquin is 24 now and making his own way in the world.  "Headstrong" is a polite description.

By all accounts, Paris was to Joaquin what it was to me on my first visit as a student at the Sorbonne.  Paris was to Joaquin what it is to so many young, starry-eyed romantics.  In spite of so many perfectly good reasons not to go just now, Paris is transcendent, even in its time of uncertainty and sorrow.

I wanted to share images with you that will undoubtedly be familiar, as seen through the eyes of a particularly headstrong. romantic, starry-eyed, editorial young man who happens to be very dear to me.  I also want to say "thanks" to my airline employer and to my friends and colleagues who made his journey so memorable.

Thank you also for getting him home safely and only 1 MINUTE past scheduled arrival in Los Angeles!  Our company has more than its fair share of detractors.  It also has one very supportive young fan who made it to work early today.  What a life!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

"We're all just walking each other home." Ram Dass

Today begins another Thanksgiving tradition:  the long road home.  Travel safely, my friends.  

Beyond that, be kind to one another.  Radical fundamentalism isn't the only impediment to our successful journeys.  We overeat, overschedule, overbook, overspend, overpack, overpromise, overexpect and become overheated.  Arriving home without one's humanity intact sort of defeats the purpose of the holiday, doesn't it?  

This is my Flight Attendant friend and colleague, Jae.  Perhaps you'll be fortunate enough to have him provide you an escort.  (Perhaps it will just be me.)

Either way, it's time to go!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


Amsterdam by night, the day before Thanksgiving.  

There's a feeling of suspense in the air these days, like we're waiting for something to happen.  Maybe it's that way most days but our awareness has been heightened.  We're like the meerkats on the African savannah, torso erect, eyes, ears, nose to the wind to detect the danger that we're certain looms just out of range of our senses.  Or maybe we just are too susceptible to media hype.  Either way, the result is a generalized anxiety.

The antidote to anxiety is comfort.  Take it where you find it.  Offer it to anyone who needs it.  Be the solution.


(Many thanks to my homeboy Joaquin for the inspirational photo!)

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Evolution of Tragedy

I would rather die in love than live in hate. 

Death isn't the ultimate. Love is. 


Tragedy isn't new.

But there was a time when the rest of the world wasn't immediately, intimately, unavoidably aware of every detail of tragedy.  There was a time when an extremist sect was relegated to obscurity because it didn't have the way or the means to globalize its grievances and terrorize practically the entire planet.  There was a time when "eye-for-an-eye" faiths, laws and punishments were isolated evidence that not all members of the human race had evolved equally.  Indeed, they haven't.

That time was before the universality of the internet and high-speed travel, when we knew more about our door-yard neighbors than about those whom we'd never physically met half a world away.  That time has passed.  Will it ever return without a global reboot?

Tragedy isn't new.  It's just been globalized.  Evolution is a process. Whether it's "good" or "bad" is up to us.

Many thanks to my friend Noni for such an evocative photograph.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Role of Service

Another onboard experiment...
We had fewer than 100 customers in economy from Amsterdam to Houston yesterday. Our Amsterdam departure was delayed around an hour by late arriving equipment. Despite the captain's post-takeoff announcement that our arrival would be considerably more timely (only 5-10 minutes past schedule), the closer we got to Houston, the more anxious everyone got about connections.
Because of the light load, we finished our pre-arrival service quickly and had time to spare after prepping for arrival (I was working the aft galley position). I took a stack of customs declarations in one hand (because one copy is NEVER enough!) and my LINK (iphone 6 Plus) in the other and strolled through the economy cabin, "Questions about connections. Extra customs forms. Questions about connections. Extra customs forms."
I was probably stopped by 15-20 customers, most of whom were connecting to Latin America, many of whom had a smart phone or other connectable device in hand. I researched their connecting flights and advised them of status and scheduled departure gate along with the admonition, "Double check monitors in the terminal once we've landed. Gates are subject to change." It was a tedious process.
Just because the technology is available and easily accessed doesn't mean that customers have a common sense ability to use it. As experienced with the process as I am, I encountered a problem or two, so it isn't just customers.
There's a disconnect between all the tech-savvy things we're introducing to our product and the ability of our customers to take maximum advantage of it. We're the "link" (pun intended) between the two. It's an unrealistic expectation to think that airline passengers have some sort of innate ability to use everything we're providing just because it's 2015. Many don't.
What is the role of a Flight Attendant, really? My opinion: anxiety-reliever.  Service begins with intention and ends with a feeling.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

These are the good old days

Flight Attendants:  the 2000+ departures in the F/A Early Out are largely complete, only a few remain until next summer. Our departing friends and colleagues have left a formidable legacy in their wake; we are the fortunate beneficiaries of their experiences.

Now, it's our turn. 

Newly hired Flight Attendants continue to arrive at a breath-taking pace. So many are coming in 2016 that IAH-based F/As are traveling to DENTK for CQ.  We are being watched, scrutinized, emulated, admired, consulted, and REFLECTED, AMPLIFIED by our newest colleagues on the line. It's a daunting responsibility. 

This is where we repay the debts we owe our mentors. It's OUR time to rise to the occasion. 

These are the good old days!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Exodus: redux

"Not all leaders occupy leadership positions.  Not all those in leadership positions are true leaders."  TR

For five long years, our cobbled-together tribe has wandered in the desert following the man who joined us, a man who claimed to know the way to an oasis.  Despite the protestation and lament of many among us, his guidance took us in every direction except the right one.  His plan changed periodically. We would chart a new course and revive our hope that tomorrow would be "the day".  But that tomorrow never came.  Hope seemed beyond revival.  

Now, just a few weeks after he left us in disgrace, that man's replacement has rekindled hope. Our new leader has joined us where we live and work, asking our thoughts and listening to our opinions about our progress thusfar.  His manner is reassuring, his approach collegial. He doesn't have all the answers, so he asks many questions. He listens; he hears. He observes; he sees. He seems to understand the practical and emotional obstacles between us and the oasis that we seek.  When a true leader takes the lead, s/he instills confidence and belief and hope and trust. 

Having shared our reality, he smiles sincerely and asks us to join him; no gimmicks, no unsupported promises, no games. 

Our Flight Attendant crew of 11 followed such a leader last night as we boarded our flight from Houston to Sao Paulo.  Who could know that the peace of our 10 hour flight would be repeatedly interrupted by a middle-aged man and his adult son who bore the same name, Greg, Sr. & Greg, Jr.?  They were seated in a centersection row of 3 seats in the D zone of our 30-day old Dreamliner (can you smell it?), along with a third man, unknown to them (34D, E & F)

From the start of the flight (and before boarding according to other customers who reported later), the two men's behaviors were an attention-getting combination of odd and provocative. They spoke to one another as if passing secrets. They continually retrieved and replaced luggage from the overhead bins.   They seemed reluctant to make eye contact. Their movements were staccato and tentative.  Experience told us that they might be altered somehow by alcohol or medication or that their peculiarities were attributable to something pathological. But there was no way to know. 

Just after takeoff, the younger Greg, holding his backpack to his chest, rose and moved quickly, purposefully toward the front of the airplane. He passed through C zone, opened the cabin-separator curtain and traversed B zone before entering the A zone lavatory aft of Door 1R. Two crewmembers saw and moved to stop him but he was locked in the lavatory too quickly. When he emerged, a male F/A intercepted him and escorted him toward his seat (34E). I noticed that our onboard leader, ISM Roxanne, was paralleling their movement aft in the opposite aisle. 

Upon reaching the galley at Doors 3, they stepped inside to speak privately with Greg. The male F/A spoke, both informing and asking simultaneously. From outside the galley, I noticed Roxanne allowing the other F/A to lead while she quietly observed. Young Greg protested that he just wanted to use the restroom (he passed 4 of them on his way to A zone) and was "embarrassed" by our actions.  The male F/A departed to resume his other duties. Roxanne accompanied Greg to his seat and spoke to both he and his father. She did so in such a way that those unaware of events would have had no inclination that the conversation was unusual. 

It was clear that the unrelated man in 34F was uncomfortable. He sat with his back to his seatmates as much as space allowed. Yet young Greg still managed to spill and splatter food on him. After a time, I was able to relocate the man to another seat, an action which seemed to antagonize young Greg. 

He found Roxanne completing her duty free responsibilities in the mid-galley and insisted to her that I disrespected him by assisting the other customer. His tone and posture were threatening. By contrast, Roxane's were set to defuse:  hands behind back, eye contact, serious but relaxed face. "What would you like us to do for you, Greg?", she asked calmly. She did not give him any fuel for escalation. She also strategically used "quiet" to her advantage. Greg felt compelled to speak, to fill the void. 

"You know, I fly you guys all the time.  I know the rules.  I was involved in an assault on Alaska Airlines once and they..."

Involved in an assault?  Was he LOOKING for an escalation?  He felt "embarrassed"?  "Disrespected"?  Those are key words in the "get something for nothing" world of chronic airline complainers (those who seek compensation by alleging maltreatment). 

Roxanne continued her steady, even-handed handling of the situation, notifying and updating our flight crew every step of the way.  All avenues of handling were open.  But we were on the path of peaceful resolution, led by a calm, calming master of the method. 

The night wore on.  Call bells rang.  Several more little "blips" came from 34DE.  Older Greg, "My toe is broken."  "I can't stand the pain." "I need my pain medication."  "Look at my toe."  (Ever had a russet potato disappear in the refrigerator only to be found months later?  Yeah.)  Younger Greg was in a semi-conscious state for much of the night.  Even with three seats available to the two of them, a significant portion of his upper body protruded into the aisle on aircraft right, effectively blocking the pathway.  Each time the crew responded to a call bell, each time we needed to pass for our periodic water/welfare checks, we had to physically move him.

All night long, we responded following Roxanne's lead and, each time, the calm returned.  Even when she was on break, the calm pace and tone that Roxanne had set prevailed.  

Several customers seated nearby complained in Portuguese that the crew wasn't doing anything about the situation.  If they only knew how onerous other potential outcomes might be for everyone, them included, if we followed a different leader, a different path.  

We defused.  We calmed.  We never wavered or took unnecessary risk.  We were ready to do what was required.  Fortunately, what was required did not involve the handcuffs that we had readied, if needed.  It could have.  

The crew worked diligently all night to bring a successful resolution to the situation onboard. Appropriate arrangements were made for our arrival. Onward reservations have been scrutinized. It was a tedious but successful night thanks, in large part, to having the right leader at the right time. 

Five years later, 80,000+ of us are still wandering in the desert, searching for our oasis.  Our new, inspiring leader undoubtedly knows the way but had a personal setback this week. In social media, I noticed a get well wish cast in his direction which said "Got your back friendly".  When a true leader takes the lead, s/he instills confidence and belief and hope and trust. 

The right leader leads even when s/he is absent. 

We've been wandering for a while.  We can wander a week or two longer.  

I think we've found the right leader.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

My "Jenna" Moment

When flying the A zone galley Flight Attendant position on the 787-8, there are few things that can disrupt the great vibe.  You are responsibe for only 12 high-value customers, you have the assistance of a dedicated aisle Flight Attendant, everything you need to provide the high-quality product we all strive to produce is reliably provided, logically placed, easily reached.  The small galley becomes the artist's palette from which to choose just the right tones to achieve just the right result.  Occasionally, an HNP (high-need pilot) will intrude into the idyll.  But the logistics of 21st century commercial flight limit the intrusion measurably.  All is well in paradise!

Until you discover that operations require that Door 1 be used for boarding (rather than the more conventional, rational, workable Door 2).

The tranquil, controlled environment suddenly becomes the meeting place of the world:  airplane Babyl.  Pilots, Flight Attendants, Customer Service Agents, Catering Representatives, Cabin Services Agents, Aircraft Fuelers and the occasional unannounced Flight Deck Jumpseat Rider all converge on your ever-shrinking idyll in a short period of time, rendering it anything BUT idyllic.  Ultimately, passenger boarding begins and the true convergence of anxiety-prone humanity begins in earnest.  On a dual-aisle aircraft, approximately half of our nomadic population will turn right upon entering, bypassing the galley proper, in order to find their way to their allocated cabin and seat.  Of course, that means that the other half MUST traverse Nirvana to access the OTHER aisle in order to reach their cabin and seat.  Sufficient space for the one task is not even close to sufficient for several, being attempted simultaneously.

Knowing ALL THAT ^^ in advance, I took pre-emptive measures and completed the "heavy" part of galley preparation prior to the start of passenger boarding.  Any task that would require me to cross back-and-forth across the path of passenger flow became my highest priority:  transferring service equipment from between the forward and aft galley lobes, loading crockery (plates, bowls and coffee mugs) from their storage carts into the appropriate ovens, shuttling glassware out of the line-of-fire which is the boarding process and setting up a pre-departure station as inocuously as possible.  I was largely successful in avoiding the onrush of the herd.  I was also ahead of the preparation power curve and was available to assist the aisle Flight Attendant with her welcoming duties.

Toward the end of boarding (the flow had reduced to a dribble), a rather large, distraught-looking, youngish couple (man and woman) arrived in my idyll.  I overheard the woman conversing with the door greeter Flight Attendant as they entered, something about having seats that were separated.  I was feeling that I had my primary duties under control, so I ventured, "Step over here into the corner and let me see if I can help you."  (It was a nice thought to think that the 3 of us (I was the smallest and I am NOT small) could fit into the galley corner, out of the way but we tried to do just that.)  Thrusting their 2 boarding passes in my direction, the woman spoke, "We weren't supposed to be on this flight.  Something happened with ours and we were re-routed at the last minute.  We couldn't get seats together."

I had just used my handheld device, LINK, to open my liquor inventory and it lay readily at hand.  I opened the "Customer Info" app and noticed a smattering of available seats in Economy but no two together.  Nor were seats adjacent to those assigned (both middles) showing available.  I showed the couple the seat map when my eye stopped on a potential solution.  "It looks as though 36D is available.  That is our bargaining chip!  Either of you can ask the aisle-seat passenger next to you if they would mind moving to 36D, leaving their seat available.  It isn't a perfect solution but I think it will work."  They seemed dubious (truthfully, so was I) as they left to continue their pursuit.

Fast-forward 10 hours...

In Sao Paulo, we parked as far from the customs hall as is physically possible.  At this airport, that is so far that one might need additional protein intake for the walk!

Toward the end of our trek, just at the top of the escalators down to the Arrivals Hall, I heard, "Isn't that him?'  I turned to see my distraught couple looking back at me, inquisitively.  I moved toward them and took a risk by asking, "Well, how did it work out?"  They were effusive, or as effusive as they could be after flying all night, "Your suggestion worked perfectly!  The lady sitting next to my husband was travelling with a friend in 36E, so she was happy to swap!"  What are the odds?  Less than 50/50, in my experience!  "We didn't have high hopes but we HAD to get here today.  We were resigned to sitting separately and counting our blessings."

I'm a bit of a purpose-seer, to the point that I can often see purpose in events that are basically, pupose-free.  So, I ventured, "You know, for the last 2 to 3 weeks, things have just been going that way around here!  Why don't we ascribe your good fortune to the arrival of a new boss at the airline?"  Of course, they had NO idea what I was talking about (reminder:  I'd been up all night, too!).

"Ever since Mr. Munoz arrived at the CEO's office, things have seemed a little brighter, things just seem to go a little better.  I'm very happy it worked out for you.  I'll forward your thanks to the man who's creating an atmosphere for happy endings.  Thank you for flying UNITED."

Mr. Munoz, this "Jenna" moment is for you!  Godspeed.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Ñ, ñ

The new boss at my airline-employer is making a very positive impression on my colleagues and me.  

Guess I'm committed now:  today, I learned how to make a tilda on my iPhone keyboard!  (You just press and hold the "n"!)

Ñ, ñ

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


In that moment of semi-consciousness just after waking this morning, I was a boy again:  happy, carefree, unburdened by the world, perfectly content.

I had just come from late summer Sunday Lunch at my grandparents' farm in Georgia.  It was the "8th" Sunday, so it was the turn of my father, mother, brother and me to join Papa and Granna at the table on the screened back porch (8 children, 8 families, 8 cycles of Sunday Lunch). For my little brother and me, that meant sharing a hand-hewn wooden bench whose height was more suited to adults, placed against the wall.  When the victuals came (and came and came...) the bench height really didn't amount to much of an obstacle.  The sultry, late-summer breeze wafted in bearing the sweet, dank smells of the farm.  That same breeze would later stir the gauzy "sheers" over the open parlor windows where we retired after our meal.

If there were no other indication, you knew it was Sunday by the way my grandparents were dressed.  During the week, Papa always wore loose-fitting denim "overalls" and a long-sleeved work shirt, topped with a well-worn straw hat.  Granna's weekday attire was a simple cotton jumper dress, loose-fitting not because she preferred it that way but because it was a legacy from her days of heartiness.  On Sundays, Papa wore his "school attire":  a dress shirt and pants, a dress belt, Sunday shoes and socks and a dress hat.  Granna would don a newer, fancier version of her cotton shift, usually topped by a "dressy" sweater to ward off the perennial cold (even in the middle of Georgia summer)!  My grandparents even smelled differently on Sundays.

Papa poured the sweet tea (Granna's tea was so sweet that it was often used to rouse livestock that had "gotten down") while Granna loaded the table with the bounty of their 100 acre farm:  fried chicken (yard bird in my younger years, "tenders" later on), salt-cured ham, mashed potatoes (gravy was for breakfast!), green beans, creamed sweet corn (creamed in an ancient, crusty cast-iron skillet with plenty of bacon fat), some variety of pea, fried okra, fresh tomatoes (flavorful), fresh cantaloupe (sugar sweet), often Granna's home-made ambrosia, a pone of fresh cornbread made from corn which which was grown on the farm and stone-ground at a local mill and any "cat-head" biscuits left from breakfast.  The poor table creaked and groaned under its burden, all of which had been grown and prepared literally FEET away from it.

The smells!  The flavors!  The feeling!  The smells!  It's not even 7am and I can smell, taste and feel the satisfaction of that meal.  Above and beyond the food and drink was the feeling of being in that place, at that time, with those people.  I didn't learn the word lagniappe until much later in life but that's what Sunday Lunch at the farm was:  above and beyond any expectation.  And on the subject of lagniappe...

Of course, dessert was always one of Granna's freshly baked pies or cakes.  Her pies had the most unique crust.  It was a paper-thin creation of flour and lard, Granna's shortening of choice (she used it in everything), into which she cast the filling of the season.  My favorite, and my dad's, was sweet potato, onto which she dusted freshly grated coconut which toasted as the pie baked.  The smell!  The flavor!  The feeling!  Did I mention the smell?!

After lunch, Papa would partake of his sole vice, a cigarette.  Papa didn't "smoke".  He "savored".

The "men" retired to the parlor while the "ladies" cleared and cleaned.  On the way through the kitchen, Papa stopped at "his drawer" and withdrew a solitary cigarette, KOOL, I think.  Regardless of the season, he drew his chair close to the parlor fireplace into which he blew the wafting effluent from his smoke, so as not to unduly trouble his guests.  I grew up in an era of smokers.  I've witnessed people smoking in all venues and under all conditions.  I've never seen anyone enjoy a cigarette more than Papa.  He would hold it away from his face and regard it as though anticipating its flavor.  He held it oddly between his thumb and forefinger as he placed it delicately between his lips and lit.  The first draw must have been Nirvana from the look on his face.  Held for just a moment longer than any subsequent puff, the residual smoke was eventually exhaled (think yoga exhalation) into the waiting mouth of the chimney.  Long draws, long exhalations, Papa had a look of utter satisfaction on his face.  If ever I had a yen to smoke (I didn't), it was because of the visions of my Papa and the joy he derived from a solitary cigarette.

The ladies joined us, their tasks accomplished, and we discussed the topics of the day:  my aunt and uncle's missionary life in Israel, whether or not Papa intended to teach another year (he taught and was an administrator in the county school system for 48 years), the status of each of my father's other siblings and their families, and whose turn it was for lunch next week (always Uncle Charles as lunches were held in descending, seniority order and Aunt Shelby's family was in Israel).

As we took our leave, with whatever abundant produce the farm was to send home with us that week, we were sent away with warm wishes for a quick return, comforted by the knowledge that only 8 weeks later, it would all be repeated.  (Now, I'm wondering.  Did P&G take a week "off" every cycle while Aunt Shelby and family were in Israel?  Hmmmm.)

All that's left of Sunday Lunches with Papa and Granna is a memory.  The smells!  The flavors!  The feeling!

The smells!

The feeling I had as I woke this morning was positively Biblical.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Our Evolving Garden

A while ago, maybe a year, I suggested that it would help us come together in our new reality if more of us left our "comfort zone" groups on social media and visited groups whose focus was more "the other side". 

Many of you told me exactly what you thought of the idea:  not much!

Others, a dear friend included, gave it a try only to have their worst fears confirmed in short order. (The dear friend messaged me shortly after retreating, saying that she would NOT be following my advice in the future!). Fair enough. At least she tried. 

But some of you tried it and, not being immediately repulsed or expelled, have stuck with it. Bravo!  Brava!  The point is not to convince or to concede.  We don't move forward on the evolutionary scale if we capitulate totally or if we never hear or consider other ways of doing things.

The point is to harmonize our polarized legacies through discourse. We can build our future together; something new, something fresh, something better than either had in the past and we can do so on our ample common ground. I know it's a slog. Believe me, I know. 

Those who have stuck it out, withstood mischaracterizations, jibes, offensive rhetoric or  suffered direct abuse "just because", you are the pioneers. You are the cross-pollinators in our new garden whose efforts will eventually yield a new kind of reality. 

Thank you. Well-done. Keep it up. 

"Time will take care of it, like it does everything else."

     - Hattie Shepherd

How much time do we have?

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Carpe diem!

To my new boss:

Only one man in the airline business has ever walked into the Chief Executive's office with such ripe opportunity. That man seized the moment, inspired his colleagues, delighted his customers, satisfied his shareholders, quieted his detractors and made history. 

Godspeed, Mr. Munoz!

History is a wonderful teacher.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

On This Wonderful Adventure

In the early 1990s, I returned to the Houston Spanish Speaker Flight Attendant base after my base in Honolulu was closed.  It was not a particularly auspicious time in my career or in my employer's history.  The operation was kind of a mess and "some new guy" (Gordon Bethune) had just come along in the chief executive position telling us that he was going to make it all better.  (He was the latest in a long line of chief executives to say pretty much the same thing, only to summarily depart after a brief tenure, leaving behind unfulfilled promises.)  As a bet hedge, I was working outside the airline as a management consultant for a firm in southern California, requiring a weekly ARDUOUS commute from Houston to Los Angeles.

My "go-to" route bid at the time was Houston/Bogota Colombia; two roundtrips in three days.  Four of those trips was a full month's schedule.  My crewmates, all Spanish Speaker-qualified, were a mixed bag of seniorities and motivations for bidding the schedule:  a full-time nursing student (35+ years of seniority), a Houston local holding her "dream bid", a rotation of others and a commuter from Florida who was displaced from the "Flower Child" era of the 60s with a perpetual, infectious smile.  Susan Ratsey and her husband, Scott, had just adopted a son named Maya who was the center of their universe and Susan radiated her happiness.  I always suspected that Susan was pretty much the same before Maya but Maya put the icing on her life's cake.

Those of us with consistent motivations flew this same trip consistently.  Linda, Susan, Ana, me and the others who rotated in and out of our schedule.  In Bogota, we stayed at a lovely hotel with world-class rooms, amenities and service.  Yet we were there for such a short time, we seldom had the opportunity to take full advantage.  At the time, the FARC (the revolutionary armed forces of Colombia) were quite active with kidnapping, executions (mostly judges and government officials) and other mayhem which rendered Bogota an EXCEEDINGLY unsafe place to be.  Luxury hotel or not, venturing out was ill-advised, no matter how safe the reputation of the barrio (neighborhood).

A 5-hour flight on a 757 can yield some pretty impressive "down time".  In this early-90s era when we still had magazines onboard, one of our motley crew discovered an exhaustive article concerning one of the more well-known Colombian drug families.  The Ochoas, the family in question, also had a passion for horses, particularly a breed known as Paso Fino (fine gait).  Additionally, they ran a well-known, well-patronized restaurant on the outskirts of Bogota known as "Margarita del Ocho", where the patron of the family held court with well-wishers (and cling-ons) from a "throne" mounted atop a dais in the center of the restaurant.  The article detailed how Don Fabio reveled in this very popular side business from his spot on high while his equine treasures pranced among the restaurant's tables and patrons, delighting his assembled guests.  Of course, my crew and I fomented a plan to visit Don Fabio in his place of reputable business before month's end.  There were so many good, valid reasons to convince us of the folly of such a plan but none would dissuade us.  None of our group was any more titillated at the prospects than our own flower child, Susan.  She was positively giddy.

I believe it was the last trip of the month.  We had planned for weeks, each packing just the right "layover attire" for such an ill-advised venture, 3-4 female crewmates and me.  (If I'm not mistaken, Joelcito was to have gone with us but feigned illness at the 11th hour.)  A cab was called.  Our die was cast.  Did I mention that BOG in the 1990s was a MERCILESSLY short layover?  At high altitude?  With an early show?  And a long drive to the airport?

Susan Ratsey's nature was ebullience.  So, I didn't immediately notice that she seemed more ebullient than usual.  What none of us knew was that Nurse Becker had been plying her (on the van ride to the hotel and then some) with libations.  By her own admission, Susan was a "lightweight".  Her customary alcohol intake was a glass or two of wine.  Neither she nor we were prepared for the impact of shots of Remy Martin to her system!  Our friend Susan was well and truly lubricated before we ever reached our target destination.

Margarita proved to be a non-descript hacienda of sorts, WELL outside the city but glowed in man-made light in the damp darkness of a sultry Bogota evening.  One normally thinks of latin people dining late.  But upon our arrival at after 8pm, the place was empty, only one or two tables were occupied.  We were shown to a table suitable for our group, adjacent to another table occupied by light-hearted patrons.  We noticed the wide pathways interspersed among the tables and throne-topped dais from which Don Fabio held forth (alas, he was not in situ on this occasion).  We ordered wine and antojitos antioquenos (appetizers from the Antioch region which were principally charred meat.)  Ana engaged in conversation with the adjacent table and the rest set out to enjoy our adventure.  A Paso Fino and rider appeared in the periphery and we knew that we were in for a unique evening.  How unique?

Midway through our first glass of wine, the charred meat appetizers arrived.  We were famished, so eager to partake.  Each of us helped ourselves and prepared to enjoy comida tipica when...

The horse and rider approached our table.  Just upon their arrival, the horse heeded nature's call.  S/he defecated and urinated directly in front of Susan.  I caught a glimpse of her face JUST as her eyes rolled back!  She managed to turn slightly to the side and behind before "letting loose".  We rushed to try to help Susan AND/OR mitigate the impact on what was a notably precarious position we had placed ourselves into this evening.  The staff were so understanding (surprisingly) and accommodating.  Ana's conversation with the patrons seated at the adjacent table continued unabated.  I've always admired that about Ana.  She can be SO in the moment, yet so not.

"We have to get out of here!  Call the taxi!", someone said.  We were so occupied with caring for our friend (we still didn't know how Linda had layed the groundwork for these events) and minimizing our conspicuousness that we hardly noticed Ana was still at the table, still conversing merrily.  A member of staff brought a container for the charred meat antojitos that we left unfinished but fully paid.  He insisted that Ana bring them with us on our journey home, once he got her attention.  And she did!

It seemed hours before our cab finally arrived.  We walked and fanned, catered to Susan's needs.  When he did finally arrive, our driver balked for some reason at allowing us admission to his conveyance.  We promised to put Susan by the door with the window open so as not to sully his place of business.  After much sweet-talking, he relented and off we went.  Bogota (high altitude) at night is a very chilly place.  We were all half-frozen upon arriving "home" at La Fontana.  After a few invectives (from both sides of the transaction), fees and a hefty gratuity paid, our driver left us in peace.  I believe that, at this point, we had about 4 hours left until our check-in for the flight home.  I was not the only one concerned about what our friend Susan's condition might be in the morning.

When we met in the lobby the next morning, each of us arrived looking awful:  Ana, Linda, me.  "Where's Susan?  Did she oversleep?"  Was she passed out still?  About that time, Susan glided out of the opening doors of the elevator, none the worse for wear.  Actually, she looked as though she felt like a million dollars.  "Good morning, everybody!  Did you sleep well?", she asked.  We were incredulous.  How could the friend that we barely got to her room a few hours earlier look and act like she'd had the best sleep of her life?

The best sleep of her life.

Our dear friend Susan was light, happiness and love.  I don't mind telling you that my eyes are full and my heart is heavy as I write this entry.

Rest in peace, Dear Susan.  You are well-loved and you will be missed.  You may be gone but your light lives on in those with whom you shared it.  Fly west!

The DiLeens

Personal note:  I am aware that some folks wonder how I can be so steadfastly positive about our "situation" these days. A friend of over 30 years informed me that that she and others believe that I'm "crazy". I suppose that's fair in light of things we read daily in social media and elsewhere.

But l know the truth.

We come not from good stock but from THE BEST stock. Our mentors and teachers are survivors and thrivers in a notoriously "bloody" industry. We should believe more in ourselves and pass along the gifts we've been given to those who follow us, including the value of positivity. If we commit to that, our future is GOLDEN.

I see myself making daily payments on the best kind of debt. My creditors expect nothing but I owe them everything.

Allow me to make another installment...


Fifty-one years later, our dear friends and colleagues, Diane Young and Eileen Mines (aka "the Di-Leens"), embark on their final trip, today to NRT. Diane and Eileen, I believe, are the most senior sCO EEO participants. What careers!  And they've been together almost every step of the way.

When they and I flew EZE together a few years ago, Diane & Eileen ran circles around those with half their tenure, all the while enjoying the great and releasing the not-so-great.  What mentors and friends to have had on this incredible journey, both to one another and to those of us fortunate enough to have worked with them!

You know what they say about a lady. She always knows when it's time to leave.

Diane, Eileen:  you are loved and will be missed. You two have set the bar high for those of us who follow.

What a friendship.

Godspeed!  Be well and happy!"


There's no avoiding the sense of loss that so many feel at work these days, it comes in all shapes and sizes. Today in Inflight, we are mourning the ultimate loss, the untimely death of a loved, respected, youthful friend.

Whether it's the loss of a colleague or just the loss of something familiar in the workplace, the loss takes its toll. We have mechanisms for coping, a cycle we humans go through. Those mechanisms can be as unique to the individual as the features of the face.

What's most important is that we treat one another accordingly. Be kind, understanding and accepting. If you haven't felt the loss yet, you will.  Acting in frustration or anger, blaming another person or group do nothing to balm the pain. Often, they just make it worse.

I've felt the repeated loss before. I've felt the joys of winning. Their memory will keep me moving forward to a better day.

I look forward to the day when it's "our turn" again.

Will it be today?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Dignity and Respect

The corporate philosophy of Dignity and Respect did not give rise to the unparalleled success of Continental Airlines in the 1990s because one man espoused and practiced it.  It did so because that one man INSISTED that we all practice it, regardless of where we worked or at what level of the hierarchy.  Of the four cornerstones of the uber-successful "Go Forward Plan", it was the linchpin upon which all the others relied.

Of course, when the Chief Executive interrupts his Christmas holiday to join his colleagues on the frontline, throwing bags on the ramp, thanking customers in the terminal, and acknowledging the contributions made by those whose schedule required holiday work, it set a pretty clear expectation.

Whether or not "dignity and respect" is memorialized as part of the current-day philosophy, should we expect it to yield any less positive result because one man is no longer with us "on the line"?  We who are the beneficiaries of that legacy are duty-bound to perpetuate it.  

I challenge anyone and everyone who has a serious concern about our future together to frame any interaction with a colleague, real or virtual, in the context of dignity and respect.  Fulfillment doesn't come from the outside; not from a boss, a customer or a co-worker.  It comes from the inside; ending every day in the knowledge that you did your part, you did all you could.  

And all that's needed to start down the fulfillment path is intention and commitment.  The rest will take care of itself.

Friday, July 24, 2015

One Outta Three...

For our Flight Attendants, yesterday was pregnant with possibility.  Yes, our employer announced a record-breaking result for the quarter (or any previous quarter, for that matter).  Our financial stability is solid, thanks largely to the moderated price of fuel.  Almost simultaneously with the quarterly result, an announcement was made that our board has authorized a $3B stock buyback plan, solidifying our position in the market but also benefitting shareholders, especially those with substantial holdings.

A year ago, almost 4 years into our merger, The airline and the F/A union agreed that 7/23/15 would be the target date for a tentative agreement to combine our Inflight workforce.  The day came and went without an agreement.  Instead of news that a TA had been reached, a laundry list of outstanding contract sections, some of the most important and most fractious issues to be negotiated, was published.

My peers have firsthand knowledge as to the state of our operation.  Most of us have a keen insight as to our customers' point of view.  Do you see a correlation between our financial performance and our operational performance?  I flew as a revenue customer over the July 4th holiday.  On the return trip, my BOS/IAH flight was nearly 3 hours late because of a computer outage that day.  The crew was perilously close to going illegal for the trip.  If they had, the result on customers would have been calamitous.

Many of my colleagues, myself included, are all three of the things that our company represents as "most important":  customer, employee and shareholder.

I am happy to report that as at least one of those three, I am "feeling the love". 

It's the other two that have me concerned.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Retirement Mission

From my Facebook timeline...

"After months of planning and furtive attempts, LaVerl and I had lunch together yesterday.  Though we've worked for the same company for many years, LaVerl retired some time ago and we didn't actually meet until the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge last August.  We've been planning a lunch date ever since, her busy schedule interfering with that plan as much as mine.

LaVerl isn't a typical retiree.  She's channeled her passion for quilting and sewing into making clothing for orphans in remote, Third World locales:  sundresses for girls, "jams" shorts for boys.  Her medium is practical, inexpensive and readily available.  She uses pillowcases as the starting point for each outfit.  The degree to which she decorates the clothing with ribbons or buttons is directly proportional to how much support she's receiving at the time.  You see, LaVerl does all of this ON HER OWN.  She is neither affiliated with nor "beholding to" an organized group. In addition to clothing, she also sews a "Concentration"-like game which stimulates young brains to match like colors or patterns.

After she creates the clothing and games, she schedules and delivers them HERSELF.  Recently, she visited orphanages in Costa Rica, Indonesia and Mexico within a period of weeks. The variety and creativity in her work is astounding.  The fact that she follows her course on her own, even moreso.

LaVerl​, if you have time, can you post some of the photos of the kids you showed me yesterday?  They are heart-meltingly adorable!  A 2-hour lunch flew by in your company.  Let's do it again!

(Thanks to LaVerl's thoughtfulness and skill, I won't be singeing my fingertips on a Texas-hot steering wheel!)"

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Son of the South

I am a child of the South. 

Born white in the latter half of the 20th century, my experience of the South was very different from that of many of my generation, many of my schoolmates, many of my sports teammates, many of my friends, many of my fellow Southerners.  I didn't fully appreciate the vast dichotomy in our southern experience until it was explained to me by a dear friend when I deigned to compare her life experience as a woman of color to mine as a gay man.

"When you meet someone, they don't necessarily see that you're gay", she said, smiling.

"When I meet someone, they never stop seeing that I'm black."

In one eye-opening, Red Sea-parting, brilliantly illustrative moment, she upended my "comfortable truth".  The clouds parted and the bright rays of real truth shone through.

When someone I value tells me that something I say or do or carry as a symbol of identity is offensive to them, I listen, I hear, I consider, and I act.  What I do is more an indication of who I am than where I come from.  No matter how proud the heritage, the symbols and creeds of the "Old South" offend people who matter to me.  Therefore, they offend me.

I am a still child of the South.  I hope that she can be proud of me.  

But either way, I'm moving forward.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

To Fly

Every year, my friend and colleague, Maria​, returns to her family home in Chios, Greece.  Every year, she shares what makes Chios more than just "a place".  Every year, I find another reason to want to visit Chios before I die.

We who fly aren't special because of what we do.  But what we do allows us to do special things, to go to special places and to spend time with very special people.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


While waiting for my mom to complete her cardiac stress test this morning, a man of about her age (late 70s) shuffled into the office alone. He was wearing an oxygen concentrator & canula and carrying a box full of medications for the staff to sort. He was moving very slowly, very deliberately and he was absolutely alone. 

After sitting a few minutes, having checked in with staff, his mobile phone rang. I couldn't  help but overhear his conversation with a creditor, he and I were alone in the waiting room and his raspy voice echoed. "Yes, I know. I'm sorry to be so late with it. I'm at the doctors office about to have a test on my heart but I will take care of it as soon as I'm done here."  There was more but you get the picture. 

Mom finished up, emerged and we left. As we exited the building, there sat an ancient, beaten-up green Cadillac, parked almost perpendicular to the lines which marked the handicapped spot.  In my imagination, I knew who was its driver. 

Of course, I can't tell you this gentleman's life situation with any degree of certainty but certainly feel as though I got the vibe.  Mom is so fortunate to be comfortable at her stage in life with family who care enough to participate in important events. My brother who lives locally and I who do not find ways to split filial responsibility. To our great fortune, Mom is generally fit and content.  I don't know which she values more: her independence or the knowledge that, should she need us, we will be by her side. 

Why do I share this with you here, you might ask?  Why not?  I like to share important things with the people who are meaningful in my life. 

Some things just matter more than others.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Getting Re-Acquainted with an Old Friend

I feel as though I became reacquainted with an old friend last weekend.  The all-nighter "rocket" from Houston to Sao Paulo, Brazil seemed as familiar as a well-worn pair of shoes, rediscovered after years of neglect.  This trip is eerily similar to the one I flew for the better part of 7 years, during the time of my Dad's illness and slow descent.  Every week, sometimes twice, piggy-backed, I would fly all night from Houston to Buenos Aires, Argentina, arriving in the early morning.  After a 4-5 hour nap and a snack, I departed Buenos Aires at around 9pm, fly all night, and arrive home a 6am.  When the trips were "piggy-backed", I left Houston again that same night to repeat the process.  Though it sounds brutal, piggy-backing increased my contiguous time off.  The second half of a piggy-backed "rocket" (quick turnaround trip) is surprisingly easy, as recompense.  One's body makes the time adjustment on the first trip, allowing the second to feel almost natural.

At first, it was a totally alien feeling living on the backside of the clock.  But once accustomed to the routine, my body welcomed the familiarity and rarity of those trips.  They increased the free-time at home in my schedule, allowing me to travel back and forth to Atlanta to be with my family as much as possible.  I suppose that maintaining a nocturnal schedule alters the consciousness of a diurnal creature as much as alcohol might alter consciousness.  For as I began my first all-nighter rocket to Sao Paulo last week (my last Buenos Aires was in 2011), a flood of memories, feelings and emotions rushed into my head and heart.  (I remember reading that feelings and experiences encountered while under the influence of alcohol are sometimes forgotten until one is once again under the influence.)  It's a different destination and airplane (now a 787) than before but otherwise, oh so similar.

After having the better part of the day free, I attempted a catnap of 2 hours or so before my 8pm check-in.  Our 915pm departure from Houston is sufficiently late that many of the customers in the premium cabin where I work have had their evening meal and think only of slumber.  (Travelers from or who frequent cities in deep South America are well-accustomed to all-night flying.  Many come equipped with the appropriate pharmaceuticals to ensure a good rest onboard.)  The few who remain awake to participate in our full meal service are mostly novices, insomniacs, or eschewers of sleep medications.  Seemingly moments after the Dreamliner's wheels leave the firmament, all is calm, all is quiet.  In 8 hours or so, we will brighten the cabin for a quick breakfast before landing.

Once the first meal service is complete and Duty Free product sales have been offered, crew rest breaks begin.  On the 787, that means that roughly half the Flight Attendants can relax for a couple of hours in claustrophobia-provoking, coffin-like bunks above the passenger cabin while the remaining Flight Attendants remain vigilant and available, evenly distributed throughout the cabin.  This is markedly different from the 767 we once flew to Buenos Aires which had no bunks.  Flight Attendant breaks were taken in Economy Class seats, markedly less inviting, notably less comfortable, assuredly less restful.  Midway through the flight, the two halves of the cabin crew switch places which means that I return to the B zone galley to prepare for breakfast.

The routine is mundane, mindless.  As a result, it can be quite calming:  the peace and quiet of the middle of the night spent arranging breakfast items on trays, placing dry cereal in bowls, loading hot breakfast entrees into ovens, icing water glasses, pouring juices and setting up carts.  Add a quick count of the liquor remaining in the barcart and it's time to serve again.

Arguably, more customers participate in the breakfast service on all-night flights than did in the dinner.  In both cases though, for the galley Flight Attendant, preparation is key to success.  Breakfast breezes by, followed by an uneventful arrival in Brazil.

After a quick van ride to the hotel, we all enjoy the breakfast provided with our hotel's compliments and retreat to our chambers.  Often, I don't even remember getting into bed, sleep comes so quickly and easily.  A few hours later, I'm awake, ordering room service, shaving, showering and preparing to do it all over again; an identical routine service and timeframe for the flight back to Houston.

Routine is not the most notable earmark of an international Flight Attendant's life.  "Expect the unexpected" could be our motto.  So when a routine so familiar, so comfortable returns after an absence of several years, it's like greeting a long-lost friend.

Now, I just hope my 30+ years of seniority is sufficient to keep me on this trip for a few months.  It's so hard to say good-bye when you aren't ready.

For my Dad...

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Value of a Hug

Every trip has the potential to be a revelation.

An old friend, more acquaintance really, traded on to my Frankfurt trip this weekend. We've known and known of each other for many years but seldom fly together due to our seniority disparity. Much of our friendship, I would say, is predicated on friendships we share with colleagues and other friends. An airline is an extended family of sorts carrying all of the good and bad connotations thereof. While many of our relationships can bear the superficiality of “Hi. How've you been?”, others go much deeper. Ours is an artificial community whose existence lasts hours, days, decades, or a lifetime, depending on how well the chemistry works!

It's possible to be generally aware of how a colleague's life has been going without ever seeing or interacting with that colleague. Thus was my general knowledge of Sally's (not her real name) life. “Telephone, telegraph, tell-a-Flight Attendant”, working for an airline is much like social media in one regard: once something is disclosed, the right to privacy ceases to exist. You can't put the genie back into the bottle. 

Sally and I shared snippets about our current life situations at different times during our trip: on the van ride, during the walk to the gate, etc. But such conversations suffer unforeseen interruptions and distractions, making it difficult to process the gravity of what's being said. When she came down early from 2nd break on the flight home, I had just finished prepping my B zone galley for the pre-arrival service. So, we shared tea and a real talk.

Sally's husband is a cancer survivor. That is not to say he is well...far from it. His lung cancer with metastasis to the brain has required grueling treatments, including radiation and chemotherapy. Terms like “carboplastin”, “whole brain radiation”, and “gamma knife surgery” were all too familiar from my Dad's cancer battle which ended with his death in 2012. It's grueling for the afflicted. It's sheer hell for the caregiver. Sally's stoic recitation of fact after fact was all so eerily familiar: my mom would recount Dad's interventions, his successes, his losses in the same, matter-of-fact way. How could she do anything else? To communicate how she FELT about what she was saying would reveal just how futile it feels to be in her position: love, material and emotional support, giving all you have are just no match for stage 4 cancer.

I acknowledged what Sally had revealed.  We went on to talk about other family members. Children and grandchildren can be great solace to someone in a grievous circumstance. Sally's interest in my life was as genuine as mine in hers. In a few minutes, we took our relationship to another level. Then, as serendipitously as our chat began, it ended with a call bell or other similar interruption. But it left me with a new level of understanding and appreciation for the life of a colleague and friend. I remember thinking, “I'm sorry we were interrupted. I want to give Sally a real hug before we get off the airplane.” I wanted her to know that I heard her, that I understood what she was saying, as well as the emotions she must be feeling and a hug seemed like the right way to do it. But I didn't. The opportunity passed because of any number of perfectly legitimate circumstances and I'm left to wonder, “Will I get that chance again?”

During our trip, Sally also confirmed that a mutual friend of ours had been recently diagnosed with stage 4 liver cancer. She received the dreaded news that what remains of her life can be measured in months. When this friend retired a few years ago, I remember thinking I might never see her again. She had been such a help to me during my Dad's illness. We flew all-night trips to Buenos Aires together and the chances for meaningful conversation were more plentiful. I found her counsel, her insights, her humor to be just what I needed at the time, in spite of the fact that she and I had no real previous basis for friendship. I grew very fond of her. And then, poof! We haven't seen each other since.

Our lives are pathways that start in the same place and end at the same destination. In between, our paths cross, diverge, run in parallel, offering us opportunities to acknowledge and support one another. That's where we have a chance to make our mark.  There's purpose to every intersection and every divergence. Do we take advantage of the opportunities that come our way? Some are monumentally obvious; others, more subtle.

When I arrived home last night, I happened across this link. It could be a scientific fact or new age mumbo-jumbo. Either way, it crossed my path at a curious time, don't you think?

I've just finished sending a “virtual hug” to my friend who received the liver cancer diagnosis. It was a difficult note to write.  But one of the most valuable lessons I learned during my dad's illness is that some friends don't cope well with mortality.  They're uncertain what words or actions are appropriate.  So, they say or do nothing.  Right or wrong, we value ourselves through the eyes of others, even at the end...maybe especially at the end.  What does it say when lifelong friends "can't cope"?

The next time I see Sally, I think I'll start with a hug rather than lamenting the missed opportunity. I hope that our paths cross again soon.

Monday, March 30, 2015

My Responsibility

Many things are occurring in "our world" (aviation) to remind us where our own, personal responsibilities lie.
I am not responsible for an unstable pilot who ends scores of lives, along with his own, in an unprecedented event. I am not responsible for a rolling mechanical delay, inconveniencing customers and colleagues in many departments. I am not responsible for corporate decisions which result in changes that many find unsavory. I am not responsible for conflict arising from the diametric opposition of two workgroups tasked with the same job. I am not responsible for an inflight medical emergency which results in the loss of a life onboard anymore than one that results in the birth of a new life onboard. No. Though others, often many, will point an accusing finger in my direction, I am not responsible for circumstance.
My responsibility, my reputation, my ultimate credibility lie in my response to these circumstances. Over that, I have total control.
Now, breathe...

Monday, March 23, 2015

Selma Johnson, A Great American

Philip and I traveled to Los Angeles this past weekend to celebrate Joaquin's 24th birthday (March 15th).  We had a pretty loose agenda since we were travelling during spring break and flight availability is spotty, at best.  Essentially, we wanted to see where our lil Homey has been living, working and generally succeeding for the last 2 years.  Our friend Roger has been playing the role of "guardian angel" since Joaquin's big move.  We certainly planned to accept his generous invitation to join him at his home in the Hollywood Hills for cocktails and cake!

Returning to the land of "bumper-to-bumper traffic going pretty much anywhere in the middle of the day" was not high on my list of priorities, on its own.  But if anything could lure me back to the SoCal jungle, it was a celebratory visit with Joaquin.  Of course, Philip was onboard at, "Would you like to..."!  Our tentative plans included meeting at Roger's penthouse on saturday afternoon around 4pm.  We busied ourselves with a couple of fantastic estate sales (Hancock Park and Toluca Lake), some Hollywood sightseeing, and a drive out to Jerry's Famous Deli for lunch on our way to Topanga Canyon.  The weather was glorious and everyone's spirits were all-in for the occasion.  The three of us were genuinely enjoying each other's company.

Despite the brutal traffic, both freeway and surface-street, we made it back to Joaquin's home and our rental home in time to freshen up and change for cocktails and dinner.  Roger had just returned from Australia the previous morning and was leaving for Recurrent Training in Houston the next day.  After he spent his one day free at home preparing for our visit, the LAST thing we wanted to do was to arrive late.  At the appointed hour, we arrived at Roger's curb.

Our host prepared a lovely cocktail refreshment for us and a personalized red velvet birthday cake for Joaquin served as the centerpiece for our pre-dinner festivities.  Our moods were light.  We were all ready to set ourselves to the task at hand:  a celebration of our boy who had just turned 24 and who had proven to all that he was where he should be, set on his own path to a successful life.  In our conversation, I mentioned that I'd always wanted to meet two of the figures who play large roles in Roger's life at home:  Carol Goldman, the widow of Dr. Paul Goldman, both neighbors and close friends, and Selma Johnson, a former neighbor who Roger always mentioned in the most reverent tone.  In my imagination, these women already had form and purpose but I was anxious to put three dimensional faces with names and descriptions.

Before our early dinner (no reservations at Joaquin's chosen restaurant were available after 6pm), we knocked on the door of the adjacent penthouse and Carol Goldman answered.  She was as warm and welcoming as I could imagine, given Roger's frequent mention of she and her late husband.  We exchanged pleasantries.  I introduced Philip.  (She'd met Joaquin previously at Roger's Christmas party.) We were rushed to make our dinner obligation in Hollywood and didn't have or make the time for much more than introductions and "sorry to disturb you"s.  I had the sense that Carol puts on a brave face in view of her recent, profound loss.  At once sweet, and welcoming, there was a distinct sadness to her that was almost palpable.  Dr. Goldman, Roger's friend "Pablo", was a formidable force of humanity without doubt.  His loss was monumental to Roger.  To Carol, it must seem insurmountable.

After a lovely al fresco dinner under the setting California sun, our foursome returned to Roger's hillside home for dessert.  We attempted to "stroll off" some of the calories from dinner on the complex grounds beforehand, though.  As we returned to his home, Roger said, "oh, there's Selma", having spotted his friend through an open window.  He called from outside and, to my surprise, she answered, "Hello, Roger!"  Though I'd wanted to meet her for some time, I felt it was likely too late, at almost 9pm.  Roger insisted that we go to Selma's door.  She was there in an instant.  The door opened and revealed a youthful-looking nonagenarian, fresh in a floral silk dressing gown, smile beaming to greet her unannounced guests.  (NOTE:  I can assure you, dear reader, that were you to arrive unannounced at my door after 9pm, I would neither appear fresh nor smiling.)

Starting with an apology for the lack of notice and late hour, Roger introduced Philip and me.  Without hesitating, she said, "and this is Joaquin, the young man I met at your Christmas party."  I added my apology to Roger's and explained that I'd been anxious to meet someone who played such a large role in my friend's life.  To my surprise and chagrin, Roger invited us to tour Selma's home, with her kind permission of course.  In a word, it was lovely:  collected thoughtfully, assembled tastefully, furnished comfortably.  In particular, Selma's kitchen was state-of-the art chrome, limestone, tumbled marble and top-of-the-line Viking appliances.  Freshly cleaned cookware was randomly enough askew to imply that this kitchen was a tool for skilled hands.  It wasn't just a showpiece, though it was certainly that too.

We passed onto a narrow but long terrace where the verdant evidence of Selma's favorite passtime was truly impressive.  Selma likened gardening to caring for her family, a passion.  It was exquisite.  Roger took a few moments to arrange recently acquired patio furniture which had been pulled close under the custom awning to avoid damage from rain.  Rain...in Southern California!  

Selma's home was a direct reflection of what I knew of Selma.  But how little I really knew.

During our visit, I learned that Selma immigrated to Los Angeles from Houston, Texas in 1947.  She met her future husbandArthur, just before leaving Texas; he for the war, she to work in a factory supporting the war effort.  Roger had previously shared some of Selma's philosophy of family, particularly as it applied to people of color.  Did I fail to mention that Selma is a woman of color?  That's understandable as, until now, it was of absolutely no consequence.  But now is when Selma's story begins to intrigue me in earnest.

By doing the math, I inferred that Selma is a member of the Great Migration of African Americans which occurred in the first half of the 20th Century.  Seeking better lives than would ever be available to them in the Deep South, blacks left by the thousands. They left for the North, Midwest and West, areas traditionally immune to the inexorable, suffocating blanket of racism in the South. 

Her philosophy was to build and furnish a comfortable nest before adding to its occupants.  So, upon his return from service, she and her new husband set out to do just that.  Though Arthur's work was of a common, blue-collar nature relegated to those without advanced education, Selma completed study to become a teacher and went on to teach the deaf, learning and practicing American Sign Language.  They methodically, judiciously built their meager fortune to the point where they would be comfortable starting a family.  Then, they focused on the task of raising four children of their own, to educating them, to assuring that they had every opportunity to prosper and thrive.  They executed their plan flawlessly.  

Arthur died suddenly in 2003. Selma now lives alone in a manageably-sized condominium where she appears to be both comfortable and satisfied.

On the walk back to his home, a building or so away, Roger shared that his passion for property investment started with and is stoked by Selma.  It seems that, over the years, she and Arthur amassed a small fortune in Los Angeles-area real estate.  They, now Selma alone, own a home just steps from the beach in Venice;  a home which has long-since been paid off and from which she receives a healthy monthly rental.  Furthermore, when Selma moved into her current condominium home, she left the 4 bedroom home where she and Arthur raised their family...in HANCOCK PARK!  Hancock Park is a pre-eminent address in Los Angeles.  Conservative and understated, it is the location for beautiful mid-century and more recent "estate" homes which routinely sell in the "8 figures".  Selma still owns this home, as well, outright, and collects a VERY healthy monthly rental for it.  My youthful-looking, unassuming, charming, smiling new friend Selma is literally worth millions.

And though Selma suffers from the usual maladies of old-age, most recently a cricked neck from which she can find no relief, she left us at her door as she met us there, with a kind, welcoming, genuine smile.  Well past 9pm, we left her to her solitude...another quiet Saturday night of reflection, no doubt.  I wonder...

When Selma reflects, does she see a magnificent life, well-lived, as I do?  Does she feel satisfaction over her accomplishments, both alone and with her partner-in-life?  Does she see the shining example for achieving the "American Dream" that her life is?  Does she retrace her path and marvel and just how far she's come?  Or is she just tired and eager for another visit from friends, old and new?

I so enjoyed meeting the women who color my friend Roger's life away from work.  They were all he described and more.  But when Selma Johnson's door opened late Saturday evening, I felt something profound.  I knew immediately that I was in the presence of greatness.  Simple?  Yes.  Unassuming?  Of course.  But profound on an extraordinarily ordinary level.  Selma Johnson is a human being of true substance, an authentic American who achieved much under difficult circumstances.  I celebrate her, her example, her drive, her determination, her sweetness, her humility, her charm.

There was something transcendent about being in the presence of Selma Johnson.  It was as though I was being introduced to someone familiar, someone about whom a great book has been written.  It has!  Selma's life is a chapter right out of THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS by Isabel Wilkerson.


It was my honor to meet Selma Johnson, a great American.