Tuesday, October 27, 2009

O'Hare in Prose

Last Thursday we left for my niece's wedding in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Our plan was to fly from Winnipeg to Chicago, then Chicago to South Bend, where we would stay the night with our son. Then we planned to drive from SB to Harrisburg, stay with my folks and enjoy the wedding on Saturday, and finally fly back on Sunday Harrisburg to Chicago, and Chicago to Winnipeg.
Generally speaking, that's what happened; but as my previous post suggests, O'Hare did not cooperate with the program. We arrived in Chicago on schedule at 7:30 in the evening to find the gates in F packed with people waiting for delayed flights. A weather system was bringing huge rain to a large area south of Chicago (and to Chicago), which meant that flights from Cincinnati (for example) were late, and flights on from O'Hare were delayed.

We quickly joined the delays, first from 9:15 to 10 pm, then from 10 to 11 pm. Finally we boarded our flight, and two hours late for the 25 minute hop across to South Bend seemed not too bad. But of course the evening was only beginning. As we sat at the gate, and sat, the captain announced first that a weakness had been noted in the floor near the door. Then he told us that the weakness was "within specifications" and we would take off. Then we learned that the weakness was worse than thought. Finally we deplaned (with some relief), and went back to Gate F12. Finally came the announcement that the flight was cancelled.

Lois went down to the specified gate to get a voucher for a hotel and make plans for the next day. I waited at the gate for our bags, two carry-ons that had been tagged and placed under the plane. Then I realized that I had the boarding passes Lois needed to make arrangements. A quick trot the quarter mile between us carried the passes to Lois, and relieved some of the building tension I felt. No bags. I went back to Lois and talked a bit, then returned to the gate to wait for our bags. Then we were told that the bags would be delivered to baggage area 6 in terminal 1. I went back to find Lois, and she was gone!

A female attendant at the desk checked the wash room for me, eliciting a voice from somewhere inside, "I'm not Lois!" Then the attendant who had given Lois our vouchers recognized me and told me that she had gone to baggage area 6, so I set off again at a brisk trot through a now deserted O'Hare. Out through security, on down the stairs, to the lower level of Terminal 1.
Here I found Lois, along with 40 or so other irate passengers. Apparently our luggage was to be held, and then sent off to South Bend the next day, where we could pick it up. While we milled about Lois told me that we had a voucher for the hotel, and that we could take the next bus to South Bend at about 7 in the morning. It was now after 1:30 am, and the time was moving.
Finally our luggage appeared at baggage area 2, relieving the growing frustration of passengers on the edge of rioting. We took our bags and crossed to the bus terminus. There we found that the first bus to South Bend left at 5:15, just over three hours later. So we forgot about the hotel and rested as well as we could.

Two young girls just back from Mexico shivered on a nearby bench, until a car arrived to take them off. I talked with JJ, a former football player from the Bronx headed back to his old university's homecoming. He had flown from New York to Detroit, then to Chicago, and now was waiting for a bus to take him to some friends in Portage. An even more convoluted journey than our own!

At 5 am we boarded the bus, and left at 5:15. Lois slept almost the full three hours on the bus, and I slept for an hour or two. At 9:20 we pulled onto the Notre Dame campus and looked around for our son to pick us up. I had woken him from a deep sleep with directions for where we would get off. When he woke, his handwritten note said cryptically "Notre Dame Holy Cross 9:20". Missing was the word "intersection" between the two street names. So he went to the Holy Cross College on the Notre Dame campus, where there was a bus terminus.
Meanwhile, Lois and I stood in a wet and rainy morning, in a wet and chilly open air bus terminus. Across from us at the main gate of the campus was a guard, who invited us into his heated shelter, called our son for us (on his cell), and soon we were at our son's apartment.
The journey was almost over. After a shower and breakfast, we got into the car and left for Harrisburg -- 10 hours through constant rain. A final twist came as we left the turnpike, five minutes from Dad's house. Lois reached for the ticket to give to the attendant at the toll booth, but it slipped down behind the ash tray. We could see it, we could touch it, but we could not get it out. We pulled over into the toll area's parking lot and took turns trying to reach it. Finally our son hooked it, and I carried it across to the toll booth. At last we could arrive.
The wedding was wonderful. The reception lovely. Brunch on Sunday delightful. We had good family visits in between. The trip back was unnaturally smooth. We arrived back in Winnipeg 20 minutes early. Every light except one was green, and less than an hour after leaving the airport we were home. A trip to remember!

Our son looking for the ticket.

A tree outside our son's apartment.

Another tree outside the apartment.

Resting in the bus depot at O'Hare.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Travelling Dreams (O'Hare)

Misty, ephemeral lights below
As we glide ghost-like to the ground.
A slow dash through the rain
And we sit and wait and sift our thoughts.
Flights delayed or cancelled
Float just out of reach -- the traveller's quest.

I'm tired
Too many people crowding around
And waiting.

Buried in her magazine a young girl leans against the wall.
Middle-aged, a man sits perhaps asleep with music in his ears.
Soft conversations suggest
More life in cell phones than in people.
Someone vaguely Asian moves down the aisle
Tapping on some handheld device (secret Asian man).
My mind drifts, picking berries more real than phantom airplanes
Circling like tired hawks searching for a place to land.

Backs collide in the press of people,
Exclamations of apology press out,
A thin wine of relational juice.
One harried woman cries out in lament:
"Paper! Give me paper! To take your names! Hear me! Help me!"
Harried staff relieve their tension,
Laughing at her distress once she is gone.
We sit by, too weary in our own journeys
To aid her in her quest
For a winged steed to carry her away
From O'Hare, our fallen Camelot.
We sit and dream of our own quests,
Some place beyond this swamp of delays and cancellations.

"I should have rented a car."
A few hours drive to Springfield in place of
So many hours sitting and waiting.
Friendships form, from Fort Wayne to Beijing,
As ephemeral as the clouds
Drifting apart as flights land.
Stories float through the air:
A missed connection to Iowa leaves a young woman distraught,
Confessing her despair to her cell phone,
The ubiquitous companion of solitary souls
Held in cell phone cellophane wrappers.

Some sleep, or sit silent alone. Next to me
A man slides his hat down over his eyes,
Blocking the glare of bright bright light,
Chasing the dream of life outside
A mother walks past, baby in sling crying,
but only a bit. The baby is at home with mother.
We only dream of home.

An attendant consults the computer
To tell a traveller what
The computer
Already says from every wall around.
Another with less ceremony wrests real information
From the computer,
Giving hope to our dreams.

A football flies by,
Two boys in their own quest for glory.
Penn State fans meet someone from Iowa,
And jest of dreams already past.
A crowd gathers round the Sports Bar TV.
One man, neat suit and tie, shakes his head
In dismay as the Yankees fall behind
on this stage of their own quest.

So many people, drinking and eating,
Laughing and crying and loving.
My hope of warm bed fades
Into the bright bright light and hard chair.
She is here anyway, and my dream lives.

22 October 2009

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Flying to PA

Considering how much flying I have done -- to Zimbabwe and back several times, and places in between, plus occasional flights east and west of Winnipeg -- it's perhaps a bit surprising how little I like flying. The actual experience in the air is fine (providing there's no turbulence), but the thoughts of being so far above the ground makes me uncomfortable. Too much imagination.

We're flying this time to Pennsylvania -- or more precisely to Indiana, then driving to Pennsylvania. We'll leave out the driving on the way back and fly from PA to Wpg. My niece is getting married, and we would like to be there! Family gatherings are a good thing, especially when one's family is as scattered as ours.

I have pointed out to our sons that it would be okay for them to settle close to home, but I admit that the example of the past three generations has predisposed them to ramble. We're just glad that they're in the general orbit of our families of origin.

And of course the wedding. My niece is getting married. I wondered to myself why they didn't get married in London: it would have given us an excuse to fly further to a place we enjoy even more than PA. (May as well be hung for sheep as well as a lamb; if we're going to fly, really go somewhere! And wherever did that expression come from -- a sheep as well as a lamb, and why hung?) It should be a good celebration, and we wish the newly-married couple a long and joyful life.

Meanwhile, the airplane. We've taken our dog to a friend for the weekend. We've almost finished packing. Lois has vacuumed and mopped upstairs (must be sure the house is clean while we're gone). And the plane is waiting. Tomorrow afternoon I will once again close my eyes as we taxi out onto the runway, and I will once again pray for safety and protection, and (I hope) I will once again enjoy the actual experience of flying.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

The times today are uncertain enough. Mary Travers (of Peter, Paul, and Mary) just died, and with her died some of our idealism for those of us who come from the 1960s. We thought that we understood what the world needed, and we have failed completely to create the world we wanted.

Almost 50 years ago Bob Dylan wrote these words (Bob Dylan 1963):
Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

If the times have changed, they have not become more clear or certain. Rather, they continue as twisted and confusing as ever.

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’.
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’.

It is not clear to me that the time has yet come to speak. Winners and losers from my youth are still spinning. John Kennedy was a winner – maybe. Except that his legacy in the political corridors of Washington includes a bitter fight for control, currently in the debate (a word we use by courtesy) over some sort of national health care system. The debate threatens to consume American society, and there really is no predicting the loser or the winner.

In Canada, we have tried our own great social experiment with “The Charter of Rights and Freedoms”; but has it worked? You would have to be wise indeed to know the answer to that question, as the courts try to work out the balance between an individual’s right to privacy and the needs of the larger community. Certainly we struggle with our multicultural identity, and our world is still spinning.

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’.
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.

The battle outside today is economic, social, religious, political – so many battles that leave us feeling the full force of our uncertain times. We check our RRSPs and hope that our jobs don’t disappear. The idealism of the 1960s is but a memory, and the winds of change continue to rattle our windows and threaten our safety.

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin’.
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.

Dylan was singing to his parents (and ours); but now we are the ones who don’t understand what’s happening to us. We thought that we were putting the forces of change in motion. In reality, we were caught up in forces much broader than ourselves, blowing not just through North America, but throughout the world. Afghanistan and Steinbach are part of the same world now.

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin’.
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’.

The dyads Dylan sets up end with one we recognize, pointing towards the end of all things when God brings in the true new world order. Whether we understood it or not in the 1960s, the uncertainty that we face in this world finds its resolution only in God.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

Thanksgiving is a strange time. For our college community the anniversary of a young man's death always echoes, and I feel the echoes although muted by being in the seminary. For our church community, the death of another young man this year makes thank yous bittersweet for some and impossible for others.

For me, spending the weekend alone (Lois is with her mother, which is a good Thanksgiving indeed) feels strange. I enjoy some time alone, but reach a point where I need to talk with someone. Is blogging sometimes a substitute for talking, except that one really doesn't know if anyone is listening? Maybe.

I like the timing for Thanksgiving here in Canada. The American custom of waiting for the end of November separates the Day from the Harvest. Our timing here reminds us that we give thanks for provision, for food and lodging, for life itself. In the States, I think, holding the celebration so much later plays into our excessive commitment to money. Commerce reigns supreme!

So tomorrow I preach a sermon; find something to eat; spend more time alone at home (not really feeling sorry for myself -- but eager for Lois to return!); maybe some telephone conversations. Then Thanksgiving Day: Read papers for school; prepare a Bible study; read a bit professionally and personally; some facebook and reading of blogs; and Lois comes back!

I find myself wondering what stitches everything together. What do I say relatively little about, but is the fabric within which I live (and without which I cannot live). God. Talking to God; listening; realizing how I ignore, then trying to reconnect with. And saying thank you. To God.