The Amazing Shrinking Convenience

Karen and I had just boarded our flight last week, ahead of schedule on what would be a perfect travel day (everything on schedule, and a total of 8 hours from when we entered the airport to when we put our luggage on the floor in her parents’ home). As we were preparing to taxi out, just before the magical cut-off point when mobile phone use must be abandoned for the duration of your trek through the clouds, a woman across the aisle was ending a call by exclaiming how tiny an airport this was. She was using the tone of voice that indicates you’re embarrassed by how un-trendy the thing is that you’re being forced to endure.

Let me set the stage: Our city has a regional airport, not a large hub. We chose to fly into another regional airport at the other end of the trip. A bit more expensive, but worthwhile in what it saved in time. At the end our week-long Christmas excursion, we entered the other airport on Tuesday, and Karen remarked after how pleasant and talkative the security screeners were with her. We got to our gate early, and listened to the airline staff joke and laugh loudly with each other and the passengers waiting to board. At one point, as we were standing and preparing for our zone to board, one staff member came back up the tunnel from the aircraft laughing so abruptly and loudly that it startled me for a moment. Given the ludicrous level of tension in most airports, I expected some uniformed law enforcement officer to appear from nowhere and drag someone off in handcuffs. But, it was humor only that was at work, and the joking continued with the passengers as we boarded the flight, one ticket agent complaining with a huge grin about how her co-worker picked on her.

After rushing to catch some connecting flights, we arrived home that evening. The total time we spent walking from the terminal to the baggage claim was about three minutes. Everything was relaxed, leading Karen to remark on how much nicer traveling is when you leave from small airports instead of large ones. The security screeners were polite and thorough, but not tense, and not showing the assumption that everyone entering the airport was a criminal. They even joked a couple of times on one end of the trip. There was no pushing and shoving and fighting through lines to get to your terminal in time. We did not have to endure security theatre. Two passengers were talking across the seating area to each other, and no one really cared.

Perhaps everyone was being kind with each other because it was Christmas. In fact, I’m certain that played into things somehow. Beyond that, however, I think we witnessed what is true with any business or enterprise: the larger the business becomes, the more likely everyone is to be treated as a cog in the machine instead of as a human being. Personability is sacrificed in the name of efficiency and uniformity and all those other nasty things that rob us of basic human dignity. Beyond a certain size, the process becomes more important than the person.

Sort of flies in the face of the assumptions of our modern industrial age, doesn’t it?

Hopefully, in managing my time and my lifestyle in the new year, I’ll remember that bigger isn’t necessarily better…contrary to the popular Western mythos.

Here’s to 2011!

Photo Attribution: _rockinfree 

Auditory Gifts

Christmas was blissfully free of large amounts of gift-giving this year, providing us with time to focus on the important activities of re-connecting with family that we frequently only see once or twice a year, and of just spending some relaxing down-time in front of classic Christmas movies while drinking hot chocolate and having fluid discussions about this and that (passionately avoiding the subject of politics wherever possible).

And, for the opportunity to do all of these things, I am thankful.

Nearly four years into the marriage, I’m just becoming well acclimated to Karen’s side of the family. I’ve had some hit-and-miss relationships with some members of the family on her side, for various reasons, and this Christmas I had some wonderful and stimulating conversations with some of them. I was very happy to have connected with them and to have experienced substantive interaction.

I couldn’t really decide why that had happened, however, until my father-in-law summarized it the best. He said that, often, we are far too interested in communicating ourselves to spend the time getting to know those to whom we are communicating. In my words, these individuals and I had always spent time talking at each other instead of to each other until this year.

For the first time in our marriage, I felt as though I truly took the time to listen to some of our family, and the result was that we found a great deal more common ground than I had ever anticipated. Part of this is that we have all progressed in our spiritual and life journeys since last we spoke, but a great deal of the reason is that we took the time to listen as well as speak for the first time.

Sure, we agree to disagree on some things. I’m very politically opposite most of Karen’s family, for example (hence the avoidance of that topic), but there’s so much more in common than not in common that I’ve discovered after taking the time to listen first and speak later.

Learning the obvious lesson from this made a wonderful Christmas gift.

Here’s to the upcoming adventures of 2011…and to hoping our flight is somewhat on time today.

Photo Copyright by Austin-Lee Barron. Used by permission. 

Slow and Snow-Filled Contemplations

It’s not getting finished.

All of the pre-Christmas gift-shipping and card-sending, that is.  Unexpected developments last week inhibited that. But, it’s okay. I didn’t even get all of the Christmas lights up in our apartment this year. But, that’s okay, too. I’m enjoying a relatively low-stress few days preceding this beautiful Christmas holiday, enjoying the last week of Advent, listening to Enya, and even finding myself thinking that the snow with the Christmas lights is…well, nice…in a nostalgic sort of way.

Now, for me to say that snow is nice might be indicative of me softening a bit in my (not-so) old age. Or, perhaps I’ve lived in the absence of significant snowfall for several years now, and am discovering what I thought least likely to be true: that I’m missing it. Or, perhaps I’m adapting mentally to an upcoming move that will be happening in a few months (couldn’t resist dropping that spoiler, but you’ll get no more from me until next year).

It’s okay that the material hustle and bustle won’t get finished. As much as I try to minimize it, it still seems to pervade this holy season in Western culture.  I don’t want to fixate on what isn’t important right now, because there’s so much that is important as we enter Christmas. The atmosphere set by the lights and trees and music and…well, yes, even the snow…is making me slow down, and remember that, as Julian of Norwich said, “…all manner of thing shall be well.” Despite personal difficulties, and perpetual war, and economic and social injustices, and any number of dangers that might befall us as move forward in our journeys, there is a Providential optimism that I see so pervasively in the Christmas season. The optimism that is brought about by the inaugural wish of what we celebrate, which was “…on earth peace, good will toward men.” I have all faith that this will, in fact, come to pass. And so, with that faith, I am not stressful, but optimistic, even if guardedly so.

And, with that faith, I wish you all a most blessed Christmas.

Photo is copyrighted by my friend and fellow-blogger Austin Lee Barron, and used by permission. Check out her work on Flickr! 

A Review of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium, #1)The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Should you find yourself in search of a good audiobook for traveling over the Holidays, I would recommend “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” Whatever medium in which you choose to read the book, however, you should do so, especially if you enjoy mysteries.  The “whodunit” factor of the plot kept me entertained, and there are enough turns and unexpected twists to keep you guessing. Also, one of the great contributions of reading this in audiobook format is that the narrator had a great sense of the characters, and the voices added a great deal to helping me visualizing them.

The mystery, however, isn’t what stayed with me the most.

The original title of the book (pre-translation, it’s “Men Who Hate Women”) seems appropriate, as that’s certainly the over-arching theme of the book. My wife commented that Mikael is a foil to this theme.  There are basically three types of attitudes toward women presented here: hatred, love, and uncertainty, all represented in different characters. In fact, Mikael seems to be a participant on further inspection, as a passive “hater” in his failure to respect the women in his life through an intentional lack of commitment and willingness to use them for his own gratification.

Lisbeth’s character is heart-wrenching. She’s a great depiction of Asperger’s Syndrome, combined with a healthy dose of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This poor, brilliant woman has no clue how to have a normal, functioning friendship with someone without permitting herself to be objectified. We see her exist in a perpetual loneliness brought about through events beyond her power, and watch as her coping mechanisms lead her to assume a role of subtle but great power over others.

I saw two other themes at work here: justice and forgiveness. Justice, in that Lisbeth is a sort of data vigalante who is unrestrained by societal norms and free to mete out justice of her own variety and in ways that she sees fit. Yet, we never question her ethics, because of what she has experienced. Are we right to view her in that sort of victim mentality? Are we wrong to oppose her?

Also, to piggyback on some discussion I listened to about the book (the Kindlings Muse podcast discussed this at length), the theme of forgiveness and second chances is strong. Lisbeth reprents the secrets that we all want to hide. In an era where someone with her skills can get their hands on every dirty secret we’ve ever typed or recorded anywhere during our lives, can we ever be offered any sort of grace? Is forgiveness possible in a world where nothing can ever be forgotten?

The book caught my attention through it’s heavy marketing in bookstores and on iTunes. I was actually sort of surprised that it is a mystery novel, as I thought it would be more of an espionage novel at first blush. I was in no way disappointed, however. The life of the late Larsson and how it influenced his writing make this book even more fascinating. There are violent sequences in the book, some of the specific details of which could perhaps have been spared the reader without losing any of the impact of the events. I found them to be slightly gratuitous at times. Larsson dwells in his details (perhaps a bit exhaustively in the first chapters), even during the action of the book, and right into the poignant ending. He chooses his words well, and this is an excellent translation from the original language. I’m left aching in sympathy for Lisbeth while cheering her on, and looking very forward to reading the rest of the trilogy.

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Hope Where You Wouldn’t Think

Karen and I are of the age, I suppose, at which we begin to lose grandparents on a relatively regular basis. That sounds callous, I know, but in all seriousness, we’ve buried three in three years. Most recently, Karen’s maternal grandfather moved beyond this realm. We knew it was approaching…while it happened a bit more quickly than we had expected, we were still expecting it. That, I think, makes it hurt a bit less.

Unexpected travel, comforting family, the occasionally rampant emotions that these events bring to a family, have all began to transpire between late Saturday and Tuesday of this week. This has become all too regular an occurrence of late, so much so that I’ve become a bit more emotionally detached from it than I prefer. Every year there seems to be one less family member than there was the previous year.

Ironically, or perhaps I should say miraculously, also on Karen’s side of the family, a new child is expected to arrive any time between now and Christmas. There’s something profound in this combination of events…something that I cannot even begin to get my head around as I try to type this out amidst the rush of preparations and arrangements and general chatter occurring around me. What I am able to recognize is a hope, because, even as one life as moved on, another is just beginning. So close to one another, so physically and emotionally near each other. An ending that isn’t truly an ending, a beginning that holds untold amounts of promise and hope of which we cannot even fathom.

As we’ve entered the third week of Advent, I’ve found it difficult to focus on what the season represents, because of emotional and time constraints. What I realize is that, in the very death and birth that are occurring in this brief period of time, we are witnessing first hand the essence of what we celebrate for these four weeks. An anticipation of a continuing life that flies in the face of death, a hope for the future, a trust in a providence beyond ourselves.

I’m seeing the thing we hope for transpire right in front of me this week. That leaves me…speechless.