Anyone that has the pleasure or chore of having a conversation with me knows I am given to wandering to passing thoughts in mid-sentence.
I dont know exactly why that is... the best spin I could put on that is that the inner-workings of my mind are a force of nature like the tide or the wind and I am trying to share this experience with you as it happens. The more practical, mechanical approach to this phenomenon would be explaining that I do most of my heavier, more "important" communications in the written form where I rely on being able to come back and clean up my thoughts through editing.
Before I completely focus on my need to explain myself I'll just say that some obsessive part of me feels the need to hit every detail without leaving any thought or emotion neglected. This can lend itself to over-analyzation and eventually I end up spinning my wheels not knowing where to start or end.
I've decided to let it come as it does and start at whatever point feels right and come back and fill the blanks in later.
I had an amazing 5 days in Marin County, California at the Spirit Rock Center's Dharma of Recovery retreat. I was able to meet Noah Levine who has in no small way touched my life up till this point and moreso over those 5 days.
I meet many wonderful people and was beginning my struggle transitioning into the "real" world.
The real story here starts at the airport and my return flight to Kansas. I had just had a difficult but ultimately amazing discussion with my Mom before I wandered into the San Francisco Airport.
I fumbled with papers in my pockets, searching for my ID and the potentially overwhelming process of operating the American Airlines self-check in kiosk.
It took me at least 15 to 20 minutes. Including unpacking and packing my bags before discovering my drivers license folded into a handful of papers tucked into the first place I had looked for it.
Upon discovering my ID, I was unable to locate my recently printed out boarding pass and had to return to the kiosk. All this was done calmly and to my great surprise with no cursing aloud or even under my breath.
I had my bags searched at security where they discovered my tub of chili paste and I calmly asked the security guard to just throw it out. There would be other chili paste tubs.
Having throughly amazed myself with my new-found calm demeanor and that I was able to carry it with me into the "real" world. I went into the men's room and treated myself to the luxury of an unoccupied handicapped stall.
I slowly and deliberately placed my bags against the wall and hung my jacket and took a seat. I was still so profoundly confused and ultimately moved by how calm I was the thought of air travel usually putting me into a moderate level of constant panic.
As I sat and thought I my mind was free of many insignificant details I usually would be given to obsessing over, among them the large gap between the seat and rim of the toilet. When I looked down and discovered that this unusually large gap had allowed a healthy stream of urine to escape onto my pants and underwear I met this with minimal distress and simply changed into clean things and bagged up the sullied garments into a shopping bag.
Once I was on the plane, which stopped on the runway to receive a new flight plan to avoid recently formed storm systems I was more relaxed than usual. Once we were in the air I admit I did grab the arm rests several times during some pretty significant turbulence. Part way through the flight I did consider the idea of looking for alternate transportation from Dallas to Wichita after landing.
Once we arrived 40 minutes late and I was forced to job carrying all my luggage a good 2 miles across the airport to my connecting flight, I admit I did check the time more than once and did find myself repeating a familiar refrain of "fuck this."
I arrived out of breath with moments to spare, took my seat and collected much of the serenity I had been experiencing. I had flown through storms and was no longer in a panic over sounds and shifting of the aircraft that had been with me on some level since my flight out of Wichita had had some difficulty with the landing gear.
It was a 50 minute flight with some degree of turbulence which I easily focused past using some of the tools I had been practicing of meditation and relaxation.
I felt I had made a huge break-through when on our approach into Wichita I was able to look out the window at the approaching lightening storm and just be in awe of it's power and beauty instead of giving into the fear I would have normally felt.
As the plane came in lower and the storm continued to move towards the plane wind shear and wild air currents started to toss the plane causing the plane to be tossed around. People started moaning, crying and throwing up.
I grabbed for the protection cord on my wrist the plane started to climb again still being thrown around. An amount of time passed that I couldnt even begin to guess at, more crying, throwing up and some screams of terror as the plane fought against the wind and dropped dramatically.
At a certain point I realized meditation was not going to be possible. My mind returned to crisis situations of the past and I started to list through some of my more popular fox-hole prayers.
The pilot came on the loudspeaker and let us know that we had encountered a storm if we hadn't been aware and let us know he would be making another approach from the north.
The second approach seemed to be worse with even larger drops in altitude and the added effect of lightening flashes on either side of the plane.
The thought occurred to me that in returning to the land of Kansas where the Baby Jesus is quite popular that perhaps my recent embrace of Buddhist practices had offended offended the powers that be. I threw a Lord's Prayer in there just to be safe. I then had an internal theological debate wherein I decided that my principles and practices in no way precluded other practices.
I had to close the window shutter as the second approach failed and the plane began to climb again into angry black clouds, horizontal driving rains and periodic thunder flashes. By this time the constant intense shifting of the plane made it difficult to tell if the plane was climbing or falling more screams, more loud vomiting.
I started repeating, "Everything is going to be OK. Everything is going to be alright," in my head and then quietly aloud. As a woman across the aisle began crying loudly I got on some real hippie type shit and yelled out "EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE OK. EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT," as best I could. My voice was hoarse and choked with fear. I let myself give into some truly hippie behaviors, sending thoughts of love and metta to everyone on the plane, outward to the people I had met over the previous week and knew that it was being returned on some level.
Time passes very slowly when you are sure you are going to die. I thought about my dog, Lily and how I had not wanted to make the trip so I could hang out with her. I thought about the elderly black couple in front of me and how they were clutching each other. Part of me wished my fiancee Stephanie was next to me because as she assured me later she wouldn't have been afraid. She would have held my hand. I then thought of my other worship practices and let the power of Morrissey into my mind from the Smiths song "There is a Light that never goes out."
"To die by your side
is such a heavenly way to die"
I thought of the two empty seats next to me and deeply wished Lily the dog and Mizzi the Cat were in them. My mind wandered to breaking other airline policies besides having a dog in an aisle seat and I thought about lighting up a cigarette.
I then realized death may very well be coming and I had hit all the high notes of things important to me, my loved ones new and old, towards strangers, friends and enemies. I was "ready to die" and my favorite habit of anger took hold momentarily. I had positive things I wanted to do with my life from this point forward and didn't want to be cheated of them, I was also tired of the panic and fear and if it was time to die I wanted it to happen already.
The flight smoothed out some. The pilot announced we were redirecting to Kansas City and as I later discovered we had flown directly through the storm cell to get there.
The stewardess began distributing paper towels to clean up the vomit. She helped a woman several seats ahead of me to a blanket to wrap around her waist to cover her soaked shorts.
It was then that I knew everything was going to be OK. I had been allowed to urinate on myself on my own terms before the flight.
Once we had the most un-smooth landing I'd ever been a part of in KC everyone started clapping the elderly black man in front of me yelled out "I love everybody. I love all you people."
Everyone was happy and talking about sharing rental cars and getting out and kissing the ground. The stewardess got on the intercom as everyone collected in the aisles and asked all these people who had been in terror minutes earlier to take their seats while the pilot assessed the situation to see if we had been going back up.
The ridiculousness of her turning her back to us to talk to us over an intercom when we were 7 feet away from her in a plane that stank of vomit hit me.
I loudly demanded she open the door so those of us that wanted off could get off punctuating it with " I need a fucking cigarette."
She let us off about half of us got off. Of the people that chose to get off one of them was a retired engineer who spent his life building planes and helicopters with over a million frequent flyer miles who said "I have never been that close to death on an airplane." The other was a gentleman from Dubai who was an amateur hot air balloon pilot who let everyone know "If the lightening hit the plane we drop like rock from the sky."
OK. My fears were justified. The pilots looked at the radar screen telling us the storm was moving off as we could plainly observe lightening striking through the window.
Before they took off again with those that chose to stay on the plane, the elderly black couple came off the plane. Clearly shaken, they were asking us what was going on. It was then that I saw that the old man was blind.
In the confusion they ended up getting back on the plane after the airline refused to pay for hotels or alternate transportation for people that would be understandably hesitant to fly again.
I thought about them later. About his declaration of love for everyone on the flight and thought about how as scared as they were they quite possibly couldn't have afforded to rent a car or take a bus. How extra frightening and confusing the situation was for a blind man and how I wish they had stayed a few minutes longer when everyone had accepted the fact that the airline just wanted to move bodies regardless of trauma or safety and we all started helping each other and making plans to share rental cars and such.
As cool as it was to even see the airline employees drop the company line and get into the spirit of cooperation that old blind man's face with stay with me.