Fearless

She is fearless.

For Christmas this past year She arranged for us to get a glass working lesson for two at the Drayton Glassworks in Savannah.  We synched up our schedules and made arrangements for a Saturday afternoon in March to spend a couple of hours learning about the art/trade of glass.

Ronald was our instructor.  He was wrapping up a lesson with a couple when we arrived.  After introductions, some basic shop safety rules and an explanation of the equipment in the glass works we got right to it.  Ronald’s ease with a combination of molten glass and new students was both impressive and unnerving.  He took us through the basics of handling glass on pipes and how to start shaping and adding layers and colors.  The goal for today was a paperweight for each of us.  I went first, and I can tell you that I was playing defense all the way from the glass coming out of the crucible until my finished product went into the kiln.  Then it was her turn.

She jumped right in.  This should not have surprised me.  When it comes to a new challenge, a new way to express herself artistically, She is all in.  The way She takes to new things is nothing short of amazing.  While I was over thinking everything and acutely aware of the heat of the glass we were winging around the studio, my partner in crime was examining colors, exploring shapes and working on putting the vision in her head into the molten glass. Her hands were gracefully twirling and manipulating the glowing glass on the end of the pipe with an ease and cadence that defied any notion that She had never done this before.

Ronald guided her through the steps and offered assistance when She needed it.  I watched her face as She concentrated on her work.  It was the same determined look I remember from high school.  Head slightly tilted, her lower lip gently held between her teeth.   When Ronald would take the pipe from her to heat the glass or add another layer over her work, She would look at me and just beam this incredible smile.   This was not a competition between us.  Which is a good thing, because She owned everything about this experience.  When her smile starts in her eyes and washes over her face, I know that She loves not only what She is doing, but that we were doing it together.  I am utterly bewitched by the sparkle in her eyes when I see her so happy and determined.

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As She was wrapping up the paperweight and preparing it for the kiln, I could see She was hooked and would want to come back and do another lesson.  As the project twirled and rolled in front of her I could tell She was wishing that our two-hour lesson was not ending.  Her project was ready to be separated from the pipe and placed in the kiln.  A few more rotations and some gentle scoring would enable a few taps to free the hot globe for a 24-hour rest in the kiln.

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On the Monday after our lesson, She went to the studio to pick up the paperweights.  Ronald left three for us.  In addition to our projects, he left the one he made as a demonstration during our lesson.

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I had already returned to Virginia, so She sent a photo.  She also posted it on Facebook,  with a little tease:

The results of Saturday’s glass working adventure at Drayton Glassworks–one by Michael, one by me and one by the instructor! I will let you all figure out who did which!!

To be honest, I could not tell which was which.  In fact, I had to confess that I was not even sure we had done these.  Ronald had a few classes that day, and I am not sure that he noted who did which project when he placed them in the kiln. She is not sure, herself.  Does it matter?  Not really.  The glass paperweights are a prompt to a great memory of a day spent together opening the aperture of our shared experiences.  They remind me of her determination and her grace in realizing her artistic vision and learning something outside of her comfort zone. The memory of that smile reminds me that, in those stolen moments when I am the only one who sees that big grin and slight shoulder shrug, I fall a little more into her gravity.

How you delayed my flight…

You don’t know you did it because you were in a rush to get to your connection at Reagan National Airport in Washington D.C. This was not a delay caused by the airline or by the weather, it was caused by the inconsideration of a fellow passenger.  Let me explain.

On 22 December 2016,  I hopped on an American Airlines flight (AA 4054) from Norfolk, Virginia (ORF) to Washington D.C.(DCA). There I was to pick up a connecting AA flight (AA 4142) to Savannah, Georgia (SAV) to be a +1 at an event on the 23rd.   We had a short ground delay in Norfolk, but we were wheels up pretty quickly for the 40 minute flight north.

cl-65The flight to D.C. was  uneventful. That is until we aborted the landing because, as the pilot said in his announcement, he was uncomfortable with the separation between landing aircraft.  We bolted out to the west and rejoined the pattern to the south of the airport for a second approach.  This time there was no issue and we were on the ground heading to the apron area where the Canadair CL-65 aircraft were serviced at a common gate.  There was a younger woman a few rows ahead of me who was agitated about the “go around”, concerned it would cause her to miss her connection. Even with the short ground delay and the second approach to Reagan National, we landed close to our published arrival time. The passenger a few rows up was working herself into a lather.

If you have been in the AA terminal at Reagan National where the regional jets are managed, you will know that you do not arrive at a gate.  You arrive at an aircraft parking area where passengers are unloaded onto buses that take you to the nearby terminal building at Gate 35 X.  Your departure from the aircraft is really dependent on either the slowest baggage handler or slowest passenger deplaning the aircraft.  With the opening of the cabin door and the placement of the ramp off the jet, we began gathering our stuff from overhead bins and headed out.  My young friend about two rows up had really spun herself up and, in her haste to deplane, caught the strap of her bag on the armrest of one of the seats in row 8.  Instead of reaching down to release it, she gave a violent jerk and pulled her bag away from the obstruction.  In doing so she ripped off a large plastic piece of the armrest and scurried off the plane (to wait in the bus).  An older woman immediately ahead of me from row 9 stopped to move the broken piece of armrest out of the aisle.  The rest of the passengers exited the plane, collected their red tag bags from the baggage cart beside the plane and boarded the bus for the terminal.   Once there I saw our young, agitated traveler hop off the bus at a run and disappear into the terminal.

My flight to Savannah was scheduled to board very soon after I entered the terminal.  I had enough time to use the rest room before hopping back on a bus that would bring me to my next regional jet.   Once I was aboard the bus with my fellow passengers we went out to the aircraft.  I was amused to note that we pulled up in front of the very aircraft I had just arrived on from Norfolk.   We waited on the bus for 45 minutes for a “maintenance issue”.

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While people were generally in a good mood because of the holidays, it was a little confining to be packed into a bus, standing, on the tarmac waiting to board a plane.  Patience was beginning to wear thin as we cooled our heels.

We finally did make it on to the aircraft.  I said “hi” to the flight attendant who recognized me from the first leg of the trip.  She asked me where I was sitting on the first flight and then asked me if I had seen someone damage the seat in row 8.  I told her the story and she just shook her head.  We were going to be an hour or so late into Savannah because American Airlines maintenance had to effect a temporary repair to the armrest.  Once the jagged plastic remaining on the armrest was taped up, no longer posing a threat to crew or passenger safety, we were off to Savannah.

My point here is that the young, impatient traveler on my first flight, who was so annoyed at the potential of being delayed or missing her next flight, did not take the time to calmly free her baggage strap from the armrest and leave the aircraft.  As a result, she damaged the armrest, created a minor safety issue for the airline, delayed 50 people from leaving on time to their destination (although I doubt anyone was connecting to a flight out of Savannah) and put that aircraft behind on the rest of the schedule for the day. That may have had consequences on crew availability.  All this during the busiest travel period of the year.   While  being in such a rush, her lack of courtesy probably inconvenienced hundreds of people during the rest of the day. I wonder how many people missed connections on the other legs flown on that aircraft because of the hour delay she unnecessarily and unwittingly created.

There are unintended consequences from our actions.  I think that if were all a little more mindful of our behavior and treated our fellow travelers with a little respect, those consequences may be more positive.  We really do impact the lives of other people with our actions, even those with whom we share a fleeting moment in an airport or an hour in an aircraft.

When you say nothing at all…

The Song. It sticks in my head, and it is a frequent companion on my travels between the Tidewater of Virginia and the Georgia Low Country.  In fact, I have more than one version of it.  One that gets played on the southern journey and one that plays on the torture playlist for the trip north.  See, I am spilling details of which even she is not aware.

I met her on the first day of 8th grade.  I had been transplanted from Brooklyn, New York to the Pocono Mountains in eastern Pennsylvania.  I was not a happy camper.

As in all first days of school, the new kid is put through the humiliation of stammering through an introduction.  Just the facts, please.  Name, last home of record, new home of record, siblings (I have 5, so it was like a new infestation in the school) and finally, something interesting about me. It was a new personal hell.  I stood and looked at the new collection of faces and, at that moment, began to wish that Skylab would pick that moment to fall out of orbit and onto my head.

My Brooklyn accent betrayed me immediately. She turned her head deliberately in my direction as if tuning in a radio frequency. She was 13, I was 12.  She had also made the Brooklyn to the Poconos transition, albeit a few years earlier. I think she may have been the only one in the room to understand me as I mumbled through the self-interrogation.

She took some pity on me. She became my translator and guide to this new universe into which I had been forced.  She gave me the inside scoop on our classmates, and she laughed at my jokes.  She became my friend when I was awkward and seemingly invisible.   It was a friendship that I cherished.  Her opinion mattered to me.  So much so that at a point where I had to make a desperate decision, it was the fear of disappointing her that kept me from making a life altering mistake.

We went on to the same college after high school.   She was Pre-Med and I was not. We saw each other on the campus every now and then.  I wish I could tell you that I was smart enough to date her and find the “happily ever after” path with her as my translator and guide.  But that did not happen.  We went on to different lives and, as often happens, we lost track of each other.

Fast forward about 30 years, and we had reconnected. An acquaintance from the high school reunion committee passed her email address to me and I contacted her.  We corresponded.  We spoke on the phone.  We talked about everything.   I have to admit here that I have failed at every relationship I have been in.  I know that the blame is not all mine, but I own that which is. We talked each other through the aftermath of my divorce and the loss of her husband.  There was no room for secrets, but plenty for acceptance.  We still had not laid eyes on each other since college.

We agreed to meet for dinner while she was on a trip to a city that I was passing through to attend a family event.  In a bustling little bistro, we found ourselves across the table from each other.  Telling stories about the adventures and tragedies of our lives. I could not look away from her.  Something was drawing me into her laugh, her voice, her eyes, her smile.  Her voice had been softened by a slight southern drawl acquired in Savannah over the years.  Time stood still and evaporated around her. It was the first of many seemingly confusing emotions I experience in her presence. After dinner and a single malt tasting lesson (she is an excellent teacher), we strolled back to her hotel, her arm in mine as we walked through the February night. The chill that ran through me had nothing to do with the weather.

As we were about to part company, I leaned in to kiss her, “good night.”  It was soft and devastating.  It was comfortable and out of control.  It caught my breath and stole my heart.  It was as if the universe was smacking me in the back of the head and telling me that I should have paid attention in my youth.  As the kiss slowly released,  she turned her head in my direction as if she was finding that frequency, again.

A few weeks later, at the Savannah airport,  the kiss repeated itself, drowning out the crowd passing by us at the top of the ramp in the terminal.

This song captures the rain-soaked explorations of old forts, laughing in the grocery store, dancing to Big Band music in antique shops and watching her doze off in the front seat as we head out of Hilton Head.  I see her dancing to 80’s music in the kitchen of a friend’s home, and I see the face of joy. I feel like I am in a state of grace when I am near her.

You say it best…

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