Tai chi Y4D284: flight home

Two days ago, a terrible storm system chewed its way across America: tornadoes in Texas (including a great many dead people), snow in New England and the mid Atlantic states, and now above-freezing temperatures at the North Pole.

Yesterday morning, the plane and crew of my JetBlue flight home from visiting my parents were stranded at a northern airport waiting for the storm to pass, and my 2:48 pm fight didn’t leave until 7:05 pm because my plane couldn’t take off and fly south.

The JetBlue staff on the ground in Tampa were professional, transparent, informed, cheerful, and gracious. The paid for a snack at 4:30, and dinner at 6:00 when it was clear how late we’d be. And the wait itself, while long, was not horrible: I had books and writing materials. That was fine. My seatmate, though, once we were on the flight, spent most of the flight texting everyone he knew about how JetBlue was awful, the staff was the worst, and they’d done nothing for us (even though he’d been ahead of me in line for snack and meal vouchers). When his text-partners responded and I could read his screen, they egged him on with words that suggested they shared his sense that he’d been hard-used that day, and it was outrageous what he’d had to put up with.

He grumbled and snarled at everyone, and eventually pulled out a gun periodical to stare longingly at every ad. He wasn’t even reading the articles: just staring at pictures of guns and ammunition. As he did so, the gun barrels in the ads pointed lazily all over the place: at me, at the other passengers, at the plane hull.

Across the aisle from me, and a few rows up, a black father in a tie was reading an article about Tamir Rice, and carefully shielding it from his daughter.

In the back of every seat was a tiny screen; throughout the flight, they played pictures of cop shows, best of sports clips that were mostly NFL collisions, and action shows with explosions. A little girl in front of me was watching a show where robot claws kept picking people up and dragging them here and there. 

Today I feel wrecked. I usually meditate on plane trips, or while waiting in airport lobbies. But none of my long wait yesterday prepared me for the assault on my imagination during the flight itself.

Tai chi today was slow, uneventful and at home. Wood floor underfoot. The quiet bustle on the street outside. Familiar noises in the house and in he world.  Some sense of the correct temperature for this time of year outside. 

But really? 

It felt like yesterday on the plane was one of the greatest fights of my career in tai chi — to be at peace in a world of violence.  

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  1. I can usually tune that stuff out . . . although I can’t offer any suggestions on how to do it. I think it’s one of those perverse little gifts that come from growing up around a lot of argument and verbal heat (thankfully not physical violence).

    Ian told me about a Buddhist meditation he learned (I think) from one of Pema Chodron’s books, in which one breathes in the suffering of the world (taking it upon oneself in some sense) and breathes out peace. I haven’t done this in a long time, but I’ve been thinking about it lately, so perhaps the fact that your post reminds me of it again means I should take it back up. It’s hard, so hard, to be compassionate towards people who are being entitled dickheads or worse, but I (have to) believe every little bit of peacefulness helps cool things down.

    • I did in fact do this, “breathe in suffering, breathe out peace” meditation, though I didn’t know it came from Buddhism (although I’m not surprised!). The guy next to me did eventually take a nap. Fortunately.

      But I’ve never been quite so exhausted by a flight before. The screens built into the seat in font of you seems a marvel the first time I saw them. Now they’re a horror.

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