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.

Stumble Upon

Here is what you can do with a paper thesaurus that you can’t do at thesaurus.com: You look up the word “happening” and somehow work your way around to “existence,” which you discover is the first entry in the thesaurus, a location delightfully fraught with meaning. Along the way you somehow manage to pass by the word “yeshiva.” (Yes, this really happened to me, though I cannot now reconstruct how “yeshiva” got in there.)

I worry sometimes that this running into what we weren’t looking for gets lost online, that when all our content is algorithmically processed to appeal to who we already are, we can no longer stumble across those things that will shape us into who we will become. E-books can’t fall off the shelf at you. Google can’t tell what’s in your soul from your geographic location and the list of Ted talks you’ve downloaded recently.

I think of chance encounters as the universe’s way of trying to get through to us, of circumventing our too-busy minds with well-targeted wake up calls. So I suppose it’s a little egotistic to think that the universe can’t handle this electronic device we’ve invented, as if we’re clever enough to disrupt cosmic communications by snagging them in our World Wide Web.

Here’s how synchronicity might happen online: You Google “couples snuggies,” and one of the links sends you to a scary website that puts a nasty virus on your computer. You take your computer to the computer store, where the person who helps you uses the word “yeshiva,” which happens to be just the word you needed to finish that poem you’ve been stuck on for weeks. (No, this didn’t really happen to me, well not exactly, but don’t Google couples snuggies and don’t ask why I did.)

I will still take the paper thesaurus down from the shelf sometimes just because it’s so much fun to wander around in the relatedness of words, but I’ll also keep in mind that the bigger relatedness out there can use any of the tools at its disposal.