Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Different View

I'm currently "hiding" in the beautiful bluffs of MN to work. Writing fiction is a solitary labor. Luckily, most days I find my characters to be entertaining company. Sure, I occasionally get together with a few real-life friends in the area during these encampments, but I don't need to pack a suitcase to do so. I just hop in my car and drive down the hill. Bliss. Predictable. My friends are there—and always will be, right? We take so many things for granted.

However, even though I'm encamped, yesterday I had to hit the road to do a little research for my novel. Yes, fiction is . . . fiction. Even so, I still need to render some things "factual." It's not fun to receive cranky emails from astute readers as to how dumb I am, so I try my best not to introduce falsehoods when I'm talking about real-life places, objects, careers etc.. In keeping with my last post, and since I had the time, I decided to once again travel the back roads to reach my destination.

What struck me this time was just how easy it is to miss things. Little did I know. . . .

Take a moment to scroll up to my opening image. See how the farmer plows circles around that stand of trees? When I first noticed the oddity off in the distance, I wondered why the farmer didn't just down the trees to make life easier for him or herself. Maybe he just likes going around in circles. Sometimes I do, or at least I act like it. Or the airlines renders me that way. Or maybe the trees are growing up through a marsh that makes that pocket of land unworkable. Maybe there's buried treasure in dem thar branches. This is, of course, why I write: my speculations never end. But not until I passed by the trees did I catch a glimpse of the object of the circuitous plowing. A house. A decaying house. Since I had a little time, I turned around for a closer look.

I usually travel with my teensy Canon PowerShot in my handbag or the pocket of my jeans. It's only an SD600, but it does a terrific job. I can even take short videos if I want, with sound. I keep pictures of my granddaughters on it (high-tech Grannie B, always ready for show-and-tell!); a shot of an Oriole that stalks me, then yells at me when I sit on the front porch to write; and a few other wonders of nature I discover along life's travels. But mainly I keep my camera close by since I never know when I'm going to want, or need, to capture something I'm afraid I'll forget (at 62, those odds grow increasingly higher), which is another reason I turned my car around and snapped a series of shots as I approached the trees from the opposite direction. The only thing I didn't know yesterday was why the scene captivated me. Today, I do.

All the trips we take, the places we fly, the meetings we sit through, the hassles we encounter, the victories we score, the people we meet on the road . . . they often get lost in the big blur of our crammed-with-dumb-stuff memories. What rises to the surface is far too often the chaotic, the terrible, the skeptical, the things that make us whine and complain. For instance, just today, I received an email from travel guru Joe Brancatelli informing me that American Airlines announced it would soon charge passengers $15 to check a single bag. Of course there will be exceptions. But since money-grabs like this have made me reject any type of airline loyalty, I won't qualify. I go with the airline that offers the best deal at the most convenient time. Nonetheless, the email set me off. I engaged in an immediate volatile diatribe. ONE MORE THING! DANG AIRLINES!

But the next email I read was from a friend's daughter letting me know she was catching a 2:30 plane today. Her father's medical condition--our long-time and precious friend--had worsened. Please pray, she asked. She is not ready to lose her dear father. Who is? No matter how brutally I was whining about the airlines, my spirit immediately U-turned toward thanksgiving for them, and I began to pray, to both God and the airlines. Get her there, and on time—in time. Give her a comfortable seat, a cool drink of water, a smooth ride, a smiling attendant.

I recalled all the flights I've made under extreme personal emotional duress. "Your mother had a stroke," my dad told me on the phone at 2 a.m.. "We don't know if she's going to make it." My mother was only 56! How could this BE! My heart raced the entire flight. The nonstop Chicago to Albuquerque flight felt like months. After ten days of sitting bedside in her hospital room, I had to come home. My babies needed me. Two weeks later, she was gone, and back I flew—to a funeral and my grieving father.

Fast forward.

"Your father died. Suddenly," I heard again on the phone in the middle of the night. A terrible shock and grief. A vacation ended. My life as I knew it, changed. When the representative of my airline (or so I called it then) didn't seem to care that I needed an immediate flight—or that I was crying on the phone—another airline's agent worked with me, expressed her sorrow, helped me get to where I needed to be in an expedient manner: to identify my father's body .

As in all of life, the line between good and evil often appears, and often is, wavy. One day something is our curse; the next day it's our life jacket, our hope, our chance to deliver a final "I love you" in person. One decade a young family builds a home; decades later, someone honors their memory by plowing around its decay. We are, in the grand scheme of things, here on this earth for such a short time. As we travel, may we be mindful of the needs of those around us. May we keep a check valve on our attitudes, perspective on our priorities, and the good sense to remember that nothing is all bad, not even the airlines, and that nothing good should ever be taken for granted.