Pre-flight Turbulence

I remain happily lost in the mystery of living… I spent last night at the Sheraton JFK so that i could catch a 6:55 AM flight to Mexico. A 9-day ‘writing retreat’ that will certainly result in a fair bit of writing, but, if we’re being honest, is really my biannual excuse to sit in … Continue reading “Pre-flight Turbulence”

I remain happily lost in the mystery of living…

I spent last night at the Sheraton JFK so that i could catch a 6:55 AM flight to Mexico. A 9-day ‘writing retreat’ that will certainly result in a fair bit of writing, but, if we’re being honest, is really my biannual excuse to sit in the sun and regain my natural copper complexion.

I love early morning flights – lowest probability of delays, highest probability of short security lines, and the benefit of arriving at the beach in time for lunch. Sure enough, this morning’s process of getting to the gate went as smoothly and efficiently as possible, the plane was even ready for boarding early. At 6:45, the crew announced that the plane was filled and that we’d have an early departure. The door was closed. The crew began their pre-flight safety demonstration. And I totally and profoundly lost my shit.

I am committed to living my life fearlessly. For me that doesn’t mean swimming with sharks or mountain biking in Nepal. It means that my Being and Doing are a product of what I Say, what my commitments are. Not, as seems to be the condition if we allow ourselves to go to sleep, a product of other’s expectations, social norms, personal emotional patterns, the weather, etc. This living fearlessly, living a life based on what I say it is, is true for me. And, it is also true for me that my mental machinery sometimes kicks into overdrive and shows up as low-grade anxiety or worry. Nothing severe, but somewhat chronic. I’ve always treated it for what I believe it to be, a condition. Like a physical condition – a limb that doesn’t work, an allergy to peanuts, diabetes – I treat the overactive mental machinery as something that’s real and needs tending but NOT as a reason to fail to live the life I say I’m committed to living. Then this morning…

As one of the attendants was just starting to show us all how to use a seatbelt, I heard a voice…no, a scream, in my head that said ‘Get out!’. Instantly, in my perception, the 150-seat A320 collapsed down to the size of broom closet. Without intending it, I stood up. I had to move, had to get out. An unprecedented experience of fight or flight – or perhaps more accurately: absolutely, positively NO flight, not on this plane at least. 

The flight crew were great. They got the door reopened, got me out, and, from what I later learned, got the plane re-readied quickly enough that they maintained an on-time landing on the other end.

Only a very uncertain waitlist slot was available on the later flight, and holding out for that limited possibility meant many hours of waiting at JFK. So, decision: switch airlines and get killed with a last-minute fare or wait until tomorrow? The face-saving option is, “eh, I’ll just wait until tomorrow, no need to throw a pile of cash away for 3-4 extra beach hours”. The reality is, “I don’t know what the f*** just happened and maybe need to process it before climbing back aboard”.

Out of the airport, back to the long-term parking lot and…it’s not even 8:30. The entire day is still before me. Back to I Say, back to committed use of time and life. Let’s go tooling around Long Beach and do an impromptu photo project and see what emerges in terms of understanding the morning’s experience. Six hours of shooting across Western Long Island and I land in a cafe in Valley Stream to review / pre-edit the day’s catch. Put the camera on the table, the bag on the floor, the coat on the chair and, as I’m about to turn and walk to the counter to order, a young man at the next table says, “cool camera, what is it?”

One of the central commitments that I’ve had for the past 15 years is working with, mentoring, educating, and in general supporting 20-somethings who are in the early stages of the inquiry: “what should I use my life for?”. The commitment has taken many forms, from formal classroom work to long-term community-building to funding business ideas. But the intent is always the same: be the place they can go to for a balanced mix of unconditional listening, uncompromising demand for rigor, and unrestricted access to development. Most folks in this community come from classes I’ve taught, or are members of organizations I’ve consulted with. Sometimes though, I meet them randomly. One was a fellow guest at a bed and breakfast I stayed at on a whim in the tiny little town of Gananoque, just south of Ottawa. Another bumped my rental car in an Atlanta Marriott parking lot.

“It’s a Fuji X100S,” I reply.


“No, but this sensor’ll make you not miss film so much, especially if you shoot black and white.”

“Cool. I’m just starting to get into it.” He holds up the old Minolta 35mm that has been sitting on the bench next to him.

Over the course of our conversation I learn that he graduated college six months ago and is unsure of what to do with his life. He had taken a photography class his senior year and the experience stuck with him. Last week, he saw a used Minolta for $14 at a vintage shop, spontaneously purchased it and started shooting.

He asks if there is a website with any of my work he can visit. As it happens, just last week I received a set of business cards that I had designed with a dozen of my images. He looks through them, slowly, carefully. He asks if he can keep one or two.

Later, and with an uncertainty and vulnerability and courage I’ve seen a hundred times and come to deeply, profoundly respect, he asks, “would it be possible to get in touch with you…if I want advice?”

“Yeah, sure. Feel free to get in touch whenever you’d like.” And then my usual User Agreement Terms & Conditions: “As long as you’re at work on yourself, I’ll be available.”

What happened today?

Today something bad happened that had never happened before: I had a short-circuit in my nervous system – a ‘panic attack’ – and it caused me to miss my well-deserved trip to Tulum. It was a horrible experience. But, it wasn’t a total loss I guess; I met a kid who might become a member of our Tuesday Tea group. Still, I did have a bit of a freak out on the plane; maybe there’s something wrong with me that I need to worry about now.

Today something mysterious and divine happened. It was amazing. I was called to support a young man just starting out in the world and the forces of the universe conspired to alter my plans, literally screaming in my head, to ensure that I met him. Maybe there’s an invisible hand guiding me that I need to listen to now.

Today life happened. It was what it was. I had plans, the plans got messed up because shit happens – sometimes in my own nervous system.  I responded by refocusing myself on my commitment to creating and to maintaining deep Listening for the world. As a result, another player may join our game and contribute to the world in ways I can’t begin to imagine.

All three are equally unprovable as definitive, objective truth about what happened today. Each leaves me in a different place in terms of my mastery of and accountability for my life. The choice is mine.

I make the meaning.
I create the world.

I Say.

What happened in your world today?

P.S., the photos from this day are here: Long Beach, NY.

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