Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Like Lilies In Spring

There is a bulb buried deep inside us all that longs for the end of the season of dormancy. It contains, and is the symbol of all our potential.  That bulb could reasonably be characterized as our life force, waiting for the opportunity to lend itself again to our regeneration. It longs for the right conditions so that it may burst forth and become the living thing that makes a difference in the circumstances in and around which it has been buried.

In its dormant state that bulb dreams… it longs for a time when it may become the thing that it is… essentially. It dreams of bursting forth and declaring its presence in the world. It desires to soak up the warmth and luster of sunlight all around it. It wants to drink of the rain’s abundance. It patiently waits  to demonstrate the benefits it has accrued from the soil out of which it came, and from which it draws succor… and to which it knows it must eventually return. It wants to replicate itself, so that the earth will be a witness to its innate fecundity.

During the seasons of its dormancy it may have been cared for… or not. It may have been covered with weeds that hid, and in some cases suffocated its existence. It may have been trampled underfoot by the careless and/or the ignorant among us. It has had to endure the obscurity that things unnoticed must. It may have even succumbed to its own existential exhaustion, not giving up - but recognized the need to just rest.

In an effort to make sense of its experiences while in its state of apparent non-productivity, it finds itself agreeing with and embracing that oft repeated soliloquy from  Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. It is a piece that fosters the cultivation of patience, and has rightfully earned a place at the very core of our idealism:

“To every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time of war, and a time of peace”.  

A time to be… and a time to be dormant.

The wisdom of the Preacher instructs us to be mindful of the “times” of our lives… lest we miss the opportunities to become what we long to be… even that which we essentially are.

And so when we have given our all and find ourselves empty… When we have been trodden underfoot and otherwise stepped upon… When we have been dissed, and discouraged… When the thorns all around us have subjected us to their constant assault, and left us to nurse the wounds of an abrasively unforgiving culture… When we come to the end of our tethers, having been exhausted by our own vanity and our lack of discretion… Let us, even then, remember that these seasons too - will come to an end.

Like lilies in Spring we discover the essential us as a bulb waiting for the right season to burst forth, casting off the redundant obscurity of a season of dormancy so that we may become all that we are again. We look forward with a certain longing in our being to making our presence known and felt in a world gone bleak through our falls, and our follies, and the winters of our discontent.

Well… it’s Spring!
It is the time of rising up again! It is time to cast off the gloom of lives gone dormant for reasons that are too many to list, and too uncomfortable to regurgitate.

Let us declare a resounding “No!” to the naysayers… Let us issue a timely rebuke to those who would be uncaring, or ignorant, or oppressive, or any combination of these iniquitous qualities... Let us rise above our own sense of being unworthy, and redefine ourselves in terms of our ability to become more than we have been.

Like lilies, we all share a certain vulnerability. That being so, let us not allow our finiteness to prevent us from rising up and blooming again. Indeed, let us live into our existential duty to help to lift the spirits of those who await our coming again - with the timely offering of something so exquisitely and exhilaratingly beautiful.

Monday, March 4, 2019


Necessary Changes
So here I am cruising at thirty-two thousand feet on a flight from Atlanta, Georgia to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. My flight originally scheduled for this time yesterday was cancelled at the last minute due to bad weather. A day later, with the sun streaming through the windows of the business class cabin, it is going to take at least an extra half-hour to get to our destination because we have been re-routed.

The new route will add an extra two hundred or so miles, but it will get us around weather that is not conducive to safe, comfortable flying. Small price to pay I thought, I just want to get to my destination safely. In the final analysis we will readily accept changes in our lives, and to our plans, when we realize that we have no viable alternative...and gladly so.

I have grown patient with these delays and re-routings from experience. One kinda has no choice but to adapt, if one intends to remain in a healthy state of mind. I bolster my acquired stoicism by telling myself “safety first”. Yesterday my flight was cancelled because of bad weather, and today I will get to my destination at least a half hour later because of similar concerns. Ok. Safety first. And besides, what’s an extra half hour or so, I have no plans for the evening.

My Fellow Travellers
It has become quite interesting to stand by and observe some of my fellow travelers get really angry about these cancellations and delays. To hear them tell it, they have important business that can't wait. Some rant and rave a little, demonstrating that aura of self-importance that they come to be known for, but to no avail. To such persons it matters not what the reason for the change is. Come hail or high water, the airline had better find a way to get them to their destination on time.

The seasoned agent behind the counter will patiently listen, knowing full well that there is not a damn thing that will be done to satisfy the demands of angry, disappointed clients. Oh hold on, maybe a free ticket to a destination of choice? Not today! Just a new itinerary, a facile smirk, and a not so gracious “thanks for your patience and understanding”.  “Now go back home, or go find a hotel room till tomorrow!”. Oh hold on, that last sentence is me thinking out loud. There are such a things as “acts of God”, the consequences of which we are all expected to share.

As I drift further into my own headspace I recline my seat just enough to maximize my comfort without impinging on the space of the passenger behind me. I am always conscientious about that, unlike those who just recline as far as the seat allows. I must confess my annoyance with people who do that.

The Boeing 737-800 series aircraft shears the wind, eliciting an elongated monotonous whistle as it makes its way across the sunny skies toward Pittsburgh. In a conscious effort to relax, I take a number of slow deep breaths.  As I do so I find myself going through some of my own reflections on life that may or may not relate to the experience of flying.

Our Fragile Existentialism
It seems to me that the idea that we are free and are therefore ultimately responsible for the choices we make is a philosophical burden that few of us are prepared to assume. In a world in which it is sometimes convenient to believe that "what is to be will be”, we tend to cultivate a certain pathos around the reality that whatever is to be is up to us. I have come to believe this. Many of us declare and live into a pre-determinism that assumes that our course in this life has been set, and there is nothing we can do about it. What is to be, will be. Period.

We can agree that there are some things we have little or no control over in our lives; but our fate and destiny are determined by the course that we ourselves set by each decision we make. There are people who will never set foot on an airplane because of their fear of flying. Like bungee jumping, and riding on the latest version of a crazy roller coaster, they just won't do it. Our most awe-full phobias are fed by one decision after another not to do something...not to take those steps which will ultimately give us power over our irrationality.

In other contexts in our lives we parrot the dogma “practice makes perfect”, but we fail to see its implication for the growing of ourselves with regards to our fears. We are impacted daily by the formative influences of the hands of experience. The constant growth that life nudges us toward is a function of the steps we take to overcome our worries and our fears. Sometimes the nudges of reality are painful and unsettling, but they force us to look more clearly at the ground around our feet. They make us look again with more critical eyes at the assumptions in which we have anchored our expectations.

Our fears sabotage every aspect of our existence. They prevent one from asking for a deserved salary increase at the job one has done well for five, six, seven years. It is fear that causes an unhappy spouse not to declare to the world that his or her marriage is a miserable sham that should end. It is fear that keeps us in one place all our lives when there is a world yet unexplored all around us.

The desire to maintain the status quo at the expense of one’s fulfillment demands unreasonable self-sacrifice. We worry about outcomes that may never be because fear breeds irrationality. My existentialism says, if a thing is unreasonable it is wrong. There comes a moment when we are shaken by the need to right the ship of fear filled living.

Danger Is Real, Fear Is A Choice
My thoughts go by like wisps of cirrus clouds. A multitude of “what ifs” find their way in and out of my mind despite the protestations of my rationalism. I eventually surrender to the moment, recognizing the reality that there are some possibilities that lay on the heap of fate which are out of my control. I entertain that thought for a moment… and then...

I am taken back to something that Cypher Raige says to his son Kitai in the movie After Earth : Danger is very real. Fear is always a choice”.  I try for a moment to reconfigure the notion... Fear is a response to danger… My reformulation sounds reasonable; it is congruent with what I have heard others conclude. I chose however to stick with Cypher Raige's dogma...Fear is a choice. Something about this formulation engenders a sense of being in control. I identify with that. The thought appeals to something in the DNA of my personhood, so I let it soak in. It fleshes out my existentialism, fragile as it may be.

Little Things That Matter… Or Not
We are twenty-five minutes from landing in Philadelphia according to the in-control, well seasoned, reassuring voice of our captain. I hold my head up and briefly, look around. The passenger beside me has had a coca cola and five or six airplane size bottles of cognac over ice. He will be served as much as he can tolerate; drinks being free in business class. He seems to be in a good mood, gently bobbing his head up and down as he listens to music from his smartphone via a headset with his eyes closed.

As for me, I have given up on my can of ginger ale. It has gone flat. I’d prefer some water anyway, but I am otherwise occupied, and not really thirsty. The lady across the aisle to my right is typing away on her laptop, much like myself. I don't think she is documenting her roaming thoughts though. She seems quite focused, maybe a businessperson catching up on work. Who knows, maybe a writer working on her next bestseller.

Often people meet others on these flights and engage in very audible exchanges about work or their other interests, or both. It can be particularly jarring when someone has had too much to drink, or when some guy is trying to impress the lady he is sitting beside whom he has just met, and with whom he must complete a certain social transaction before landing.
At the moment I have a certain private transaction that I must complete myself... in the bathroom. I unbuckle my seatbelt and head thereto. It's less than a minute later, and I hear that discreet ’ding’ which precedes inflight announcements. The flight attendant speaks: “The pilot has turned the seatbelt sign on. Please fasten your seatbelts and return your seats and tray tables to the upright and locked position. If you are moving about the cabin please return to your seat and fasten your seatbelt.”

Grounding Ourselves
The aircraft tilts to one side and then downwards as I return to my seat. We had begun our initial descent into Philadelphia. It is still sunny above the clouds.

The journey through the clouds, some of them appearing like mountains, evoke certain latent reflections. No matter how stormy it is below, it is almost certainly calmer above the clouds, especially at thirty two thousand feet. I am brought back to conversations in which we often underline the importance of “taking the high road” when we face certain difficult situations.

The ability to ground ourselves in a robust objectivity in the face of trying circumstances is a most welcome resource, one that we hope will always serve us well. This objectivity enables us to understand the circumstances we face in a way that balances us when we would otherwise be teetering on the edge of our own precarious subjectivity.

The sound of the landing gear deploying breaks my momentary soliloquy. We will be on the ground in a few minutes, and must now put away all those technologies that could interfere with the aircraft’s safe operation, and our own safety. Safety first! And so we turn our phones and computers off, storing the larger items appropriately.

I look outside, it is still raining. I have barely noticed the difference in the duration of the flight. Time contracts when mind melds with the sometimes dense matters of living. Those who had fallen asleep now begin to stir as we prepare for landing.

The wheels of the aircraft eventually announce their contact with the runway with their familiar screech, and even the most seasoned flyer breathes a prayerful breath in appreciation of terra firma… again.

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