Sunday, April 24, 2016

Big Shoulders

And then Doug came walking in.

I met Doug during a nightmare hell flight back to New York from Chicago on Tuesday when my magic happy pills, which normally dull my terror of airplanes, suddenly and mysteriously went south and left me conscious and alert whilst I was 5 miles in the air.

I don’t fly often but whenever I do I always make sure to pack my trusty bottle of Xanax and it’s always worked perfectly.

Yes, I usually end up in a drooling stupor, but thanks to those little pills I’ve been able to travel to places like L.A., Colorado and Hawaii without freaking out all over my fellow passengers.

But something went very wrong on this trip. I noticed it first on the flight out when I was more jittery than normal. However, I was so focused on traveling to a new city to meet new people that the fear slipped out of my mind as soon as I landed at O’Hare.

The panic returned a thousand fold on the way out, though, beginning with a time-sucking slog through Chicago traffic that had me seriously wondering if I would miss my flight.

Upon reaching the airport I had the great fortune of standing on the slow motion security line behind a woman with three children, one of whom was screaming as if he were being pulled apart by Hannibal Lector.

I really did my best to contain the poor me schtick that I’m so good at, trying desperately not to bellyache about how, of course, I end up standing behind the featherless screech owl while the minutes slipped away.

I’m not heartless and I do love children, but, lady, could please stuff a Brillo pad in that kid’s pie hole? We human beings would be most appreciative.

I was so short on time that I didn’t bother tying my shoes once I got through the TSA scrum and I ran down to the gate as people were lining up to board the plane. I have never been that late for a flight in my life, but at least I hadn’t missed the plane. So I popped a pill, said a prayer, and prepared to slip into chemically induced euphoria.

Ask Your Doctor…

But nothing happened. No dead-to-the-world naps, no senseless slobbering, nor giddy laughter or disoriented moonwalks through the airport. I was about to climb into the clouds and I was fully conscious. What the hell?

I was seconds away from screaming my head off like that kid in the security line. And that's when Doug showed up.

Doug, who is in his fifties, lives in Iowa and was heading to New York for his job. He is also gift from God as far as I’m concerned.

He greeted me cheerfully as he took seat and told me that he was working on his doctorate in workplace psychology.

“I like to help people,” he told me. “It makes me feel good.”

Doug quickly tuned into my anxiety and proceeded to show me a series of relaxation techniques and actually held my hand during takeoff, landing, and scattered bouts of turbulence throughout the flight.
Now it was time to do my lucky me schtick, which I don’t do nearly enough.

Of all the people in the world to sit next to me, I got this saint of the skyways to lead me through this fiasco where my pills had failed.

“Thanks for letting me help you,” Doug told me when we returned to earth.

You’re thanking me? I should give the keys to my house and my firstborn child (if I had one) for putting up with my inflight idiocy. I gave him my card and promised I would find some way to pay his kindness forward.

When I got home I unraveled the mystery of the powerless pills. I had taken the wrong medication.

The Xanax was still sitting in my medicine cabinet and the stuff I had mistakenly brought with me was so old the label had faded.

This is probably why doctors tell us to throw out old prescriptions—so we don’t make stupid and potentially deadly boners like the one I had just pulled.

I held on to the evil pills for a few days just in case they contained something nasty and I’d have to show them to an ambulance crew. But I seem to be okay so into the trash they go—along with anything else in my medicine cabinet that has outlived its usefulness.

I wish to hell I had brought the Xanax on this trip, but I’m so glad I met Doug because he taught me some powerful lessons about kindness and empathy.

In June I’m scheduled to fly to a conference in Atlanta and I’ll be packing the right medication this time.

There are plenty of pills in this world, but very few Dougs.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Bless ‘Em All

The answer was right there in the lyrics of an old song and I never saw it until now.

The origins of “Bless ‘Em All” are a little sketchy, but the song is probably most associated with World War II. Or at least it is to my way of thinking.

For those of you who may know not this little ditty, it goes something like this:

Bless 'em all, Bless 'em all.
The long and the short and the tall,
Bless all those Sergeants and WO1's,
Bless all those Corporals and their blinkin'sons…

My dad, a WWII veteran, knew this song and he told me the rank-and-file soldiers often substituted another word for “bless.” Please feel free to use your imagination.

There’s also a play and film entitled The Long and the Short and The Tall that we watched when we were kids and we always laughed when one character told another “I can be a bigger bastard than you!”

The song had been out of my head for the longest time until I went to confession at the Church of Saint Agnes, which is close to my new office.

Saint Agnes was established in 1873 to serve the laborers who built nearby Grand Central Terminal, which is holy ground to me.

I’m flying to Chicago tomorrow for work and I don’t like getting on a plane without first receiving communion and confessing my sins.

I told the priest I’m still working on the anger and how I’m still furious with so many people from my past, even though they’ve been out of my life for decades. And the priest gave me some rather odd advice.

“You should ask God to bless them,” he said.

As Back to Their Billets They’ll Crawl

How’s that? Bless these mutts who did me dirty? This is a joke, right? Yeah, I’ll ask the Almighty to bless them, all right—with a pile of bricks.
“Ask God to bless them,” the priest said, “and you’ll feel better.”

It’s hard to believe, but I found that he was right.

Whenever I thought about someone who had pissed me off, I asked God to bless that person and the anger just dissipated.

It ain't easy being mad at people while you’re wishing them well. My hostile nature gets all confused.

Forgiveness is important, of course, but taking that extra step and asking for God’s blessing on those who caused you woe gives you the power to evict those malingering spirits.

“I want you to say one Our Father and the Hail Marys,” the priest said, “and I want you to say them for someone who is dying today.”

This was fabulous. Not only did he give me a way to reduce my rage, but he got me thinking of others as well.

We’re all going to leave this world someday, so it’s important to pray for those who are going now because I’ll want the same kindness when it’s my turn.

There’ll be no promotions on this side of the ocean, but as long as I can, I’ll bless ‘em all.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

All Dressed Up

I looked at myself in the mirror, adjusted my tie, and fell straight through time.

This was the first day of my new job and I was all nerves and crazy. That’s only natural, of course, but I was really winding myself up into a higher state of lunacy.

I was wearing my best suit and a brand new pair of shoes, which I had bought just for this occasion, and then my mind decided to slide out the back door.

You’re going to be 59 years old next month, I told myself. And what have you done with your life? Shouldn’t you be more successful by now?

Yes, now that was exactly what I didn’t need to hear on this particular morning. And as I looked at my reflection I had this lightning flashback to my grammar school days.

I was suddenly standing in the kitchen of our family’s house, some 40-odd years ago, all done up in my Cub Scout uniform and my mother was giving me the once over before sending me off to Catholic school hell. (Just kidding...well, no, actually, I'm not.)

“All right, Captain. Parmenter,” she said, brushing away some lint. “You’re ready.”

For those of you who don’t know your Sixties sitcoms, Captain Wilton Parmenter was the commander in F Troop, which was one of my favorite shows at the time. Please remember I was a child back then and I suspect this program has not aged well at all.

Portrayed by Ken Berry, the captain was an affable klutz who was chronically clueless about women, corruption in the ranks, and the laws of gravity, apparently, given all the pratfalls he experienced in the course of each episode.

But he did look great in a uniform.


My mother wasn’t actually comparing me with this dimwit—far from it. When I was struggling in school, a far too often occurrence, she’d buck me up by saying “You’re a smart boy!”

More importantly, though, I was her smart boy. She was just being affectionate and loving, which came quite easily to her. And I think that’s why I recalled this memory at that moment.

I was feeling stressed, frightened, and isolated, and my mind, hearing a subconscious call of “I want my mommy!”, promptly delivered the goods.

Naturally I started crying, which happens often when I think of my mother, but I had enough sanity left to remind myself that I really didn’t have time for yet another breakdown and that I had to get my ass to work.

Fond memories like this are priceless, but they can also be traps if you use them as an excuse to avoid reality. These recollections work best as emotional support—not as an escape hatch.

My auntie, my mother’s sister, called me at the office late one afternoon and she instantly heard the tension in my voice.

It is absolutely impossible for me to hide my emotional state from this woman and I swear that if she worked for Homeland Security she’d have terrorists babbling out their plans in record time.

She told me to calm down and work hard, and then finished off with another one of her priceless bits of advice.

“Cheer up and go catch your bus,” she said.

Yes, exactly. Do what’s required of you, be grateful for everything you have, and then go the hell home. I’m sure Captain Parmenter would agree.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

The Captain’s Tears

“Have you ever thought of yourself as a captain of a ship?”

That one made me laugh. If I had to come up with a nautical image of myself, it would probably be as a lowly seaman flopping around below decks with a mop and a bucket.

Hell, I’m so frightened of open water I’m liable to screech “abandon ship!” while rowing in Central Park Lake

But Kathryn, my healer and mystic, said my spirits were giving her this ship captain message loud and clear.

“They’re saying you’re more in alignment now,” she said. “You’re more in control.”

I went to see Kathryn today for another one of her brilliant energy sessions. It is particularly important to do this now because tomorrow I am starting a new job.

Yes, that’s right. I’ve been hired as a business writer for a large publishing company and while I’m excited and grateful beyond words, I’m also scared clear out of my mind.

I knew I needed a session with Kathryn to help calm my nerves, as I was cranky and irritable for most of Saturday, and rather poor company during an afternoon theater outing with my dear auntie and sister. (Sorry, ladies.)

After the treatment, Kathryn said my energy flow has improved in the year or so that we’ve been working together.

“I used to feel a lot of spasms when I worked on you,” she said. “But there’s only a few now.”

Kathryn also told me that my trip to Hawaii in December was very important for me because I broke away from my usual routine, met some really fabulous people, and have an overall great time.

“You’re spirits are happy because you’re happy,” she said.

And then I started crying, something I often do during Kathryn’s treatments.

Anchors Aweigh

It’s hard to explain why I do this—besides the fact that I’m a certifiable loon, of course-but when I work with Kathryn I feel this need to release pent-up emotions.

“Is the captain supposed to cry?” I asked, laughing between the tears.

“The captain cries all the time,” Kathryn said.

Well, this captain sure as hell does--and that’s okay.

I must say I do love this image of a ship’s commander. I have spent far too many years agonizing over one thing or another only to find myself sinking into some very dark waters.

A captain, however, is decisive and takes responsibility for those decisions. He or she is alert, mindful, and ready to change course at a moment’s notice.

Kathryn also encouraged me to do some walking qigong to build a stronger connection with the earth. So now I have a nice combination of land and sea.

It feels strange not searching through the job sites anymore, after checking the online want ads nearly every day for the last year. But I'm not complaining.

Of course now I’m getting calls from people looking to interview me, following the old “feast or famine" scenario. I sincerely thanked these people for their interest and respectfully declined their kind invitations.

This sudden popularity is a sharp and welcomed contrast to the code of silence that greeted me when my old job went south.

My new office is located on Third Avenue near Grand Central Terminal, one of my absolute favorite New York landmarks and a place that I feel is filled with all kinds of energy.

So tomorrow I set sail on a new voyage. There will be some rough waters, no doubt, and plenty of storms, but I’ll take hold of the wheel, keep my eye on the North Star, and guide myself through the ocean of life.