Monday, January 18, 2010

January 18, 2010 - Aisle or Window?

Here I am, again, in Bradenton Beach, Florida, attending The Homiletical Feast – a gathering of fellow preachers who meet together once a year to share sermon ideas and support one another in our work. It’s always good to get back together with this group – especially on the first day, as we share stories of what our lives and ministries have been like in the past year.

I’m thinking, now, about an experience I had on the airplane last night. Usually, when I fly, I reserve an aisle seat if I can. It’s always seemed more efficient: it’s easier to get up and walk to the rest room, if I have the need, and it also makes for a slightly quicker exit from the plane after landing. At one time in my life – when I was serving as a seminary admissions director – I used to fly frequently. I had it down to a familiar routine.

This trip, for whatever reason, I reserved a window seat. Maybe I just wanted to vary the routine. I haven’t sat beside an airplane window for years, so I thought I’d spend a little time reacquainting myself with that view, weather permitting.

Weather was permitting. It was dark for most of the flight, but I could look down on the glistening lights of the east coast, far down below me. It was lovely.

The thought occurred to me that flying is a truly marvelous thing, something the vast majority of airline patrons absolutely take for granted. The expansive view I was taking in so casually is a perspective no person on earth – no human being ever born – had viewed prior to the 20th Century. Maybe a very few people ventured up several hundred feet in hot-air balloons, but no one had ever ascended the heights a modern airliner achieves with such ease. I found myself thinking of those earthbound people of centuries past, whose feet were planted firmly on the ground and who gazed up at the skies with longing. Surely some of them spent their lives wondering what the earth looks like, from the perspective of the birds circling slowly overhead. Yesterday, I – along with every other person who’s ever boarded an airplane – had that opportunity.

So what? What do we do with that opportunity, typically? Not much. We spurn the window seat, in favor of the aisle. The view from the airplane window has become commonplace. For most of us, it has lost its wonder.

If we could somehow transport a curious person from centuries past – let’s say, for example, Ben Franklin – into our century, and offer him a ride on a jet airliner, what sort of seat would he prefer? You can bet your bottom dollar ol’ Ben would choose the window. No way would he pass up the opportunity to view the earth from the perspective of the heavens!

There are numerous experiences in life that can change our perspective. Cancer is one of them. There was a time, as I was going through the worst of my chemo side-effects, that I couldn’t walk around the block without stopping to sit down a few times. It wasn’t just that I felt tired and thought a little rest might feel good. I literally couldn’t do it. Now, of course, I can complete a short stroll like that without thinking twice about it, but do I ever stop and ponder how wonderful it is – how blessed I am – that I have regained my strength? Not often enough.

Of our short attention spans, our stunted capacity for sustaining wonder, the prophet Isaiah has this to say to a wayward people:

“You have forgotten the Lord, your Maker,
who stretched out the heavens
and laid the foundations of the earth.
You fear continually all day long
because of the fury of the oppressor,
who is bent on destruction.
But where is the fury of the oppressor?”

– Isaiah 51:13

Life is good, in so many ways. Life with cancer, life without cancer – there are still plenty of sights to see, lots of new experiences to be had (even some old ones that haven’t yet been drained of their wonder).

Aisle or window? You decide.


Vance said...

Great post, Carl. I alternate between window and aisle, depending upon the length of the trip. But for short flights, I prefer the window. The view never ceases to amaze me, and it isn't always the same.

The analogy to having cancer is apt. My Jewish friends believe that there are no coincidences, and the bad things in life are not really bad. Rather, they are opportunities to learn and grow, with God's help.

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Wendy S. Harpham, MD said...

Nice post.

I, too, regularly think about how wowed earlier generations would be if they saw us flying in planes, using cell phones, and using the computer to connect with people we've never met in person yet feel as if we "know" as friends or colleagues. It's an easy exercise for realizing daily marvels.

So, too, with sunrises/sets, rain, and so on.

This tendency has increased in me, too, since being treated for cancer, especially as regards mundane bodily functions.

When I was young, I snickered when I first learned about the morning prayer thanking God for properly working openings, because otherwise "it would be impossible to exist." That snicker came back to haunt me when I was an adult, dealing with chemo-induced nausea for a year and poor appetite for another few years.

My appetite has been normal for many years now, yet I still notice the gifts of good appetite, tasty foods and pleasant satiation. It's a nice way to live.

With hope, Wendy

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surrey said...

I fully enjoyed your trip with your blog post.... really great trip.