Solidly Connected

Flying home from Colorado to California last week, I had a window seat over the wing, the perfect spot for observing the man who held the two red, plastic signaling devices aloft and walked backward, giving the pilots directions to back the plane up. It was cold in Denver—the wings needed de-icing—and it occurred to me that this man was willing to stand outside in below freezing temperatures so that I could go “up in the sky,” as the mom in front of me told her daughter.

I thought about all the people it took to make that flight happen: the engineers who designed the plane, the factory workers who assembled it, the mechanics who kept it running, the pilot, the flight attendants, the air traffic controllers, everyone who made the airport run, from the TSA agents to the baggage handlers to the custodians. All of them are willing to do what they do for me.

Granted, they don’t wake up in the morning and say to themselves, “Oh, Rachel’s going to be on this flight. I’m so excited to help her out.” They may or may not think about the people they’re serving at all, but consciously or not, they scan boarding passes and mop floors for me. That’s astonishing.

People kill chickens, wrap them in plastic, and ship them across the country for me. They test toothpaste formulations in laboratories and design packaging for me.

I have a tendency to get abstract about this concept that we are all connected, but it’s as solid as it gets. We do nothing on our own. Every moment of our lives is supported by countless other humans, animals, and plants, all of whose existence relies on the Earth and the sun.

And we’re connected through time, too. If those two brothers in Kitty Hawk hadn’t been fascinated with flight, if this planet had formed farther from this star, if our universe had expanded any faster or slower.

Generosity pervades our lives to a degree our minds cannot hold. All we can do is recognize it and bow.

3 thoughts on “Solidly Connected

  1. Thank you, Rachel, for this reminder. As a teacher I would sometimes find out LONG AFTER I taught a child that I had in some way affected that child in a lasting way. While I loved knowing that, it was also humbling and reminded me to NOTICE all that supports me. I think of the mom talking to her child in the seat in front of you….”up in the sky” touching your ears and heart. Oh yes, how connected we are, and how important it is to stay aware.
    Curious – did you know the work of Brian Doyle? A Catholic writer – funny, not hesitant to NAME some of the church’s troubles, yet still deeply in love with his faith. He died at 60 last May but was Portland Magazine’s editor (college alumni publication), an editor of some “best Catholic writing” and a prayer-writer, prolific short essay writer and, in recent years a novelist. His work STORY-filled as is yours. When I read of him in a tribute in America magazine, I scoured the internet and found other lovely tributes and reprints and collections of his many essays. I’ve loved the way his writing – like yours – reminds me of simple truths and encourages me toward awareness. I’m currently reading Martin Marten about a boy’s awareness of nature and its reaction to humans. Something tells me you’d like it. Thanks for all your word gifts. Happy 2018.

  2. This essay reminds me of an experience Sunim has shared, on a bus during a journey in Korea. He talked about the awareness of appreciation he experienced for the driver who was after all facilitating his journey and those of all the other passengers. They were all, driver and passengers, in the same bus together, all part of an overlapping and interconnected reality. For him, the experience was deeply felt and beautifully reassuring. It clearly spelled out the illusory nature of loneliness, which has no basis in a fundamentally interconnected world.
    At the same time I am aware of how our culture does not acknowledge these things well. It emphasizes and assesses value according to metrics of productivity and competitive success. It objectifies its subjects and dismisses subjective concerns as insubstantial and weak. As a result, this vision of shared contribution, this sense of being in the same boat together, is damaged and discarded. It impoverishes the way in which we inhabit our world and generates isolation, loneliness and suffering.

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