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Archive for March, 2012

The accumulation of Life Drama over one’s years sometimes directs us to look for the big dramatic news.  So events like President Kennedy being shot, men landing on the moon, Princess Diana’s accidental death or 9-11, drive us to look at CNN.COM in the morning, wondering if we bombed Iran overnight and started a big mess.  However, often the drama in the human community is played out in places like a Starbuck’s patio at 9 AM.

Today at Starbucks, I first observed a 50ish black lady with her grocery cart saunter up to the curb and start to rummage through some trash cans, looking for discarded bottles and aluminum.  She was not like the scroungy homeless folks we often see but rather had on a very clean outfit that looked like the things that lab techs wear.  A floppy sun hat shaded her wrinkled and smiling face.  Even her cart indicated that she wasn’t down and out, she was ready to survive and enjoy doing it.  The cart had plastic flowers stuck on top of her accumulation and a bright yellow plastic pinwheel spinning in the morning desert breeze.

She energetically stomped flat some plastic bottles and began to bag them up, oblivious to the customers observing her efforts.  I like survivor types who don’t sit around waiting for a handout.  I trotted over and asked if she would like a morning coffee and muffin.  Graciously she declined, noting that she already had breakfast.  Soon she rolled on down the street to find another treasure trove.

After I worked some more on my morning crossword puzzle I noticed another customer sitting there in the warm sun.  This white lady was super-sized-chunky for lack of a nicer term.  Instead of a latte, she was slurping down a regular can of Coke!  Over the next twenty minutes I think she sucked on a least three cigarets, in spite of signs that ask folks not to smoke on the patio.  Coke and cigarets for breakfast!  Isn’t that kind of like suicide?  I had to wonder what drove the one woman to survival and the other to a slow suicide.  Since I had stuck my nose into the survivor’s world by offering a little AM java, why didn’t I offer the second lady some advice, like “give it up” or something.  But we want to be polite instead of confrontational don’t we.  So is being “nice” better when the second lady maybe needed a jolt of reality that isn’t the jolt sold in a can of Coke? Tough questions for 9 AM but I might have missed all that if we had bombed Iran overnight.

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Nickel and Dime ya

When I began working for an airline in 1959, we only had First Class, Coach and then cocktails for sale on board!  Traveling today from Erie, PA to Cleveland, to Los Angeles and ending up in Palm Springs I got to see the new “Nickel and Dime service” in action.  First, you get to pay $25 to check your bag.  Us folks that take too much baggage or are too lazy or old to drag a bag to the gate cough it up.  It’s painless, just stick your credit card in the slot and when you get an agent in front of you, your bag tag pops out and they just send your old suitcase down to security.

When you board if you find that your legs cannot squeeze into the leg room you have, not to worry.  If there are seats open further up in coach that have more leg room, you can upgrade for $15!  Do NOT try to sneak up there into open seats or you will feel the wrath of a fairly ancient flight attendant!  So your card gets into the slot again.

On board you can watch TV and movies.  Just stick your credit card in the slot (again) on the seat back in front of you.  $7.95 for flights over 3.5 hours.  No popcorn with that.  Ah, dinner time and you get a choice of snack boxes anywhere from $4 to $8.  The more expensive box gets you three cheeses you can’t pronounce and lots of crackers and a candy bar.  The cheaper one is cheese and crackers.  The flight attendant just sticks your card in a portable ATM slot that she carries down the aisle.  Don’t accept cash anymore!

But also there were boxed meals you could buy.  Turkey wrap for $7.95 and three other choices at $5.95.  Coke and coffee were free today, but if you wanted to drink something stronger to help you nap and forget the extra charges, you might like a Margarita for $7 or a Trader Vic Mai Tai for $9, or house wines for $7.  For the heavy drinkers there were ten choices of brand name liquors for $7.  You get those in cutsie little bottles that you can take home to remember your flight.  If you have two or three of those you might only remember being rolled off the plane in a wheelchair.  The wheelchairs are free but you need to tip the skycap.  Pretty soon we’re talking real money here.  Maybe Mr. Obama can do something about this.

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The question above was the subject of writings by Francis A. Schaeffer, theologian and philosopher (1912-1984).  He attempted to answer the leading question by reviewing the philosophies of history and the resulting histories of the nations and peoples who followed them.  However, we also realize that all humans have this question in the back of their minds, but few deliberate on such a difficult conundrum.

With the loss of lives among school friends, in neighborhoods and on highways in my lifetime, this question often came to mind.  In my personal experiences I remember classmates (1958) and how they lived.  Jim from Walnut Street lived a decent clean life, no smoking or alcohol, but died last year of bone cancer.  However, Uncle Howard survived the awful battlefields of World War I and lived to 85.  My best friend in high school, and neighbor Bob got up one morning 25 years ago and fell over dead.  There isn’t really a pattern or answer here, is there.

But some for a variety of reasons have their lives extinguished.  Classmate Jim M. went to Vietnam, came home a drunk and put himself in the cemetery at 45.  Last spring two boys in my hometown went celebrating and drinking after one’s graduation.  Their car went out of control and the graduating kid died on the spot.  Another relative, Louis, lived a full life into his late 90’s and one day when he couldn’t deal anymore with the loss of his wife and all his friends over the years, took his own life.  The variety of what happens in our lifetimes leaves us all guessing, as it should.  We actually have more control over the question, “how then should we live,” than over “how then should we die.”

“How then should we live?”  Aside from family, peer and societal influence, each of us must look for our own answer.  Often their advice to me was, “Be careful.”  That was a nice way of saying, “Don’t die.” Most of us were careful but we also were adamantly opposed to the idea that if we just stayed home “safe” nothing could happen to us.  Sister Bertha and a friend took off when they were about 13 and hitchhiked 500 miles to Chicago!  When she was older, Bertha lived everywhere from California to Seattle to an island off Alaska, and lived life at 90 miles an hour.  She is in a nursing home now at 68 but she might be there even if she had no great life experiences.

I was off and out of town as soon as I saved up enough money to leave at 18.  Thereafter I lived in Minnesota, Michigan, and a few places in California.  I loved traveling and went to Australia, New Zealand, Germany, England, Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, Hawaii and 39 states.  Did I ever fear that I was in danger?  Not really.  Though my family and some relatives were fearful about this dangerous (and sinful) world, looking back they were careful never to let their fear of accidents, wicked people, or folks who were “different” transfer to me or my siblings. So we got both the good and the bad, both courage and a healthy fear, like in most families.

How then should we live?  I love to drive 100 mph, but I also drive carefully.  I love going to new places but I am also cognizant of the neighborhood and those around me.  Often I chat with strangers but realize that someone could be a killer on the run.  I have been on so many airplanes in my life that it is like going to the grocery store, but I also note the location of the emergency exits.  If we learn to only live to survive, we shall never really live.  If we are afraid of breaking a leg, we will never experience the thrill of skiing.  If we are afraid of drowning, will never swim and if afraid of looking like a fool when we fall when ice skating, will never zip across a frozen surface.  And one does not survive life, so to speak, though there is wisdom that says the soul never dies.  If we are afraid of everything in life and hide, we kill our spirit and might as well be in the grave.

And so it is that we are left with choices.  Some are highly concerned that we live in a dangerous world, but if you study closely, the world has always been dangerous in one way or another!  We can live so we have a rainbow of wonderful memories or we can stick our head in the sand and live safely.   A good idea would be hold in balance the knowledge that you only have one life and also that if you hide from living life to the fullest through fear, still you never get out alive!  Therefore, fear not for your safety but beware the fear that overtakes our souls and spirit, thus denying us a full and wondrous life experience.   Note that a higher purpose overcomes fear.  “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”  Jim Elliott

Live well my friends!  Be bold!  Live fearlessly!

 

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