Thursday, January 15, 2009

Canned Humanity

How many of us were on-board that ordinary flight from Frankfurt to Los Angeles? I didn’t have the luxury to count. All I know is that every seat and every inch of storage space was filled. Sacred, personal space easily became shared, contested space. That metal cylinder reminded me of my expanding waistline – snug and stretched, unexpectedly taxed! In this limited, confined territory, I was involuntarily moved closer to mankind!

That Lufthansa daily “milk run” could have just as easily been the Starship Enterprise, with our all-knowing captain, cross-cultural crew, the blinking, buzzing machinations of modern technology, occasional space-speak gibberish, an upper level window on the universe and the silent, almost ignored, “power station.” Stuffed into that stress-tested, aluminum tube, I hurtled with apparent ease through the upper reaches of my itinerary!

There were all types: bigger ones, smaller ones, lighter-skinned ones, darker-skinned ones; happier ones, sadder ones, distracted ones; those headed towards something, those running from something; the energetic and wide-eyed novices alongside the weary, shade-covered veterans; wealthier ones, poorer ones! We were connected, yet separate, alike, yet different!

My life-mate and traveling partner sat next to baby Michel – a little hand in a much larger one! I winced when I was reminded that the price for the privilege of bulkhead seating is always proximity to infants. But my mate, in her grace, saw opportunity in this serendipity. Michel cried out and his bedraggled mother fed him what we call “baby food.”

Sharing the journey forces some, sometimes to be somewhat humane; others, consistently refuse to rise beyond the lowest level of humanity! Most know that the journey is a means to an end, yet others view the costly venture as an end in itself!

We had left behind, in Athens, the dangerous and destructive rioting in the streets, as well as the centuries-old prejudices. How thin is the layer of civilization! As this autumn’s world-wide economic meltdown has unquestionably reminded us, we are, all of us, vulnerable to forces beyond our control. Routinely, we naively move through frightening and deadly atmospheres. A screen tells me that we are over Hudson Bay, headed toward Calgary and are traveling at speeds I cannot comprehend, 2345 miles to our destination and minus 54 degrees, just outside my window! A thin, aluminum sheeting and a layer of plexi-glass separate me from the frigid and foul environment through which I move with careless ease.

We consume precious resources because we can and because our adopted lifestyle demands it. We are connected by the Internet, yet, also alone in the cosmos, with our thoughts and fears, waiting for the red, “occupied” sign on the astronautical “porta potty” door to change to green! We are powerful, yet vulnerable! Just hours ago, I stepped on board a space-ship, yet I was forced by a stranger to abandon liquids, take off my shoes and have my laptop wiped and swiped! What powers we have! How impotent we are! On an earlier flight, we were forced to do a “go around” at Frankfort, because …, I know not, why.

On a screen, a cartoon-like, electronic view of the world gives me a glimpse, ostensibly, from above what is assumed to be our privileged perspective! We see where the sun begins and the darkness ends! Oh, the gift, to come from the darkness into the light! Will it be that way when we land? Will I walk upright on the earth, in the daylight, or in the dark? Freed from this artificially-enforced intimate connection with humanity, removed from this precious introspection, will my life reflect the conquering compassion of the Christmas season in its first incarnation or the capitulative competition of the Christmas season in its contemporary manifestation?

Sometimes I don’t want to unbuckle my seatbelt!

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