Happy Out of O’Hare

EXCERPT FROM At the Water’s Edge:

After sipping on some iced tea (which didn’t come sweetened here) and thinking over the name of the Chicago airport – nearly the same as that of the heroine in ‘Gone with the Wind,’ another Southern Belle with Irish roots – Danielle began to relax and even feel especially confident. It was as though the airport, itself, was giving her a wink and a nod that she was headed in the right direction, and the luck o’ the Irish was with her.

I penned those words over 3 years ago about my book’s young protagonist who was setting out for the first time on her own to travel to Ireland. My words came rushing back to mind this week as I excitedly worked away on this same project, polishing my final edits. Call me strange, but I’ve always held an affinity for Chicago’s O’Hare airport; and just between us, I think it feels the same way about me. I connected through O’Hare twice this week and, on both occasions, I had extraordinary experiences (by my standards – and I am the one judging here) in which I felt I was getting that same wink and nod (telling me I was headed in the right direction with my writing).

During my first time through, I rushed to pack up my laptop after using every possible second I had before it would have to be stowed away for awhile. (Let’s face it, I was in the last group to be called for boarding, so it wasn’t like I had a prime spot on the plane anyway.) As I jumped to the back of the line, my ear keyed in on a beautiful sound. A young woman a few feet ahead of me was “t’inkin’ ‘bout t’ings” (with her “udder” friend who was accompanying her) in a sing-song lilt that only the Emerald Isle can magically bestow upon its residents’ tongues. She reminded me so much of one of my supporting characters, Keeley, who I had just ‘folded away in my laptop,’ that I couldn’t help but try to wedge myself into the crowd for a closer listen. I squeezed in so tightly to keep up with her that I probably landed myself on an airport stalker list…

Fortunately, my self-designed craic didn’t seem to stop them from letting me through on the return trip. We were all packed in like sardines on my flight from Seattle to O’Hare. Because of the length and the close quarters of the trip, I did a lot of sharing of snacks and space (and bathroom scheduling) with my two companions on either side of me. I was using hard copies for edits (because opening the overhead compartment to get to my laptop would’ve created an airline disaster) while the gentleman next to me was using his tray to perform programming tasks on his laptop and a corner of mine to hold his drink. Upon completing her movie, my travel companion at the window decided she needed a restroom break. I began gathering drink cups off my tray to place it upright, as my aisle-seated counterpart lifted his laptop and tray. He had forgotten that he had a cup resting in his lap for a spare wine he had on hand; so as he went to stand, the cup began to spill over. This is one of those moments in life when reactionary response overtakes sensible thoughts. My hand reflexively reached for the falling object, as fortunately did his. (I did mention the cup was in this stranger’s lap, right?) His catch was a success – not just of the cup, mind you, but of catching the embarrassed blush on my face over what I’d nearly done. He gave me a wide grin with a shrug and said, “Happy out” in his accented voice.

After that, you couldn’t have wiped the smile from my face all the way into O’Hare airport. At that point, it wasn’t surprising to me that this man’s next flight would be taking him into Dublin; and though few Dubliners use that expression, I’ve been told it’s well recognized within other regions of Ireland. That’s not the best part of this story though – not where the best ‘wink and nod’ originate. As we pulled into our terminal at O’Hare, I closed down the manuscript I’d been editing. At the front of my active edits, on the title page of Chapter 25, sat the gloriously bold-printed, typed words: “Happy Out.” 

Speechless in Seattle

Just returned from Seattle where I was honored to be presented with a professional presentation award (which, in essence, must mean that if  someone else presented to the award-winning presenter, I got trumped!). Interesting that I wasn’t asked to utter a word. If I’d been in the audience, I might’ve been suspicious of the award-winning claim. Nevertheless, it was an exciting 60 seconds or so following a cross-country flight that left me in need of both a time and spinal adjustment, but I digress…

Seattle, WA is a fabulous city!

I was there on limited time, but borrowed some of it to enjoy the Pike Place Market and the Space Needle. This was taken in the Chihuly glass sculpture garden at the base of the Space Needle. Let me just say – – to fully appreciate its essence and beauty, you need to go at night when the sculptures are illuminated. They also should be viewed from the outer perimeter with these gorgeous, weeping  firs setting your eyes’ frame to fully appreciate the same level of awe I experienced. (This is my way of saying the garden was locked by the time I got there & I could only get a fence-perimeter view.) Stunning, nonetheless.

maKinG WavES

(Author’s note: This is ‘parable poetry’ – not to be mistaken, of course, with its rhyming counterpart – ‘terrible poetry.’ The water’s edge is always an interesting place to reflect, full of its own life lessons – if you’re willing to pay close enough attention and to, sometimes, even risk glancing at what’s beneath you. In case you missed it, this one’s about making waves.)

Devo: Who Paves the Road to Good Intentions, Anyway?

I’ve spent the past several years of my life living a hundred miles north of Atlanta. I can never recall a visit there when I didn’t witness miles and miles of road construction. Atlanta apparently kept expanding our way, as I now can’t travel anywhere around my own city that I’m not passing dented orange barrels threatening to cause claustrophobia in yet another lane. You’d be hard-pressed to convince me it’s true, but I’m told that civil engineers spend a significant amount of time in the detour planning process, considering traffic flow patterns for devising alternative routes during the various phases of road de- and re-construction.

When one has to travel the same way, directly through a construction zone, day after dusty day, the trip can become arduous on the nerves – especially on the days when progress appears non-existent. 
The impatience of waiting and the unanticipated detours become distracting and may cause wrecks, ill tempers, or even cause some commuters to get off-course, vowing never to travel that way again. Those who are forced to traverse the ‘de-construction zone’ each day often become quite adept at the role of long-suffering commuter, even capitalizing on tragic tales of woe at work, each morning’s description becoming increasingly worse as the audience becomes increasingly sympathetic. Many get so accustomed to arriving late to their destination each day that they begin to become complacent, expecting others to simply understand their detoured excuses. As a matter of fact, the excuse of tardiness may become so long-understood that it even works on days in which road construction wasn’t even a factor. Despite such benefits, eventually a dread begins to settle in, casting a mood on the traveler’s day before it ever begins – simply from reflecting on the trip that lies ahead.

Months and years can progress when a large road project has become an on-going event. By the time the paving crew arrives, in reality, the motorist should be rejoicing! No more dusty, uneven, grated roads that make your car (and your entire body) vibrate and hum. The end is in sight. That’s not how it works though. Everyone – and I mean everyone – dreads the paving crew most of all! They’re the ones who bring in all the gooey, messy materials slopped out by huge, cumbersome pieces of equipment that leave tar build-up and loose gravels stuck on passing vehicles. Though the paving crew is laying out the finishing touches of a soon-to-be enjoyed product, by the time they arrive to prepare permanent passage of a greatly improved road system, the attitudes of the commuters are not so joyful and thankful. Instead, attitudes are, more often, the expression of the road’s prior condition – filled with grated nerves and increased agitation. The travelers, you see, have lost the vision of greater things to come. The promise of open passageway no longer seems to be a reality. This paving process seems, instead, only to serve as yet another portion of the torture that has bombarded the senses for the past couple of years. And speaking of senses, is that tar smell offensive or what?!

I have to wonder how many of you began emphatically nodding your heads in agreement to some of these descriptions as you read them. I also have to wonder how many of you were able to begin relating these events to your own spiritual lives and how you may have the ability to envision where and how God has called you to make your journey. Have the offenses of annoyed commuters, unreasonable detours, excessive delays, irritating excuses, and life’s foul smells bombarded you to the point that you’ve decided to travel in a totally different direction? Can you no longer sense that God is allowing these delays and distractions to come into your life so that you may travel down a clearer course in the near future? Have you, instead, become impatient because the Engineer hasn’t shared His plan with you? And have you even shaken your fist or loudly proclaimed that this spiritual re-construction is a big fiasco, with no one giving proper consideration as to how it was going to affect your life?

I’ve traveled in that spiritual construction zone for a large portion of my life, not understanding many of the detours and, as a result, getting myself into worse messes when I attempted to follow my own routes. On occasion, my choices took me off-road because they seemed thrilling (but caused irreparable damage to my vehicle). I’ve likely caused many (emotional) wrecks along the way, too, that didn’t just include my own vehicle. I also let myself become the victim of others’ poor choices in detours. In short, I lost faith that there truly was a plan meant to route me around the construction zones and get me safely to where I was journeying, even if it meant perceived delays in my life. I also came to points of complacency and readily used excuses for  my own delays. By the time the paving was taking place to smooth out those rough spots, I would have argued that the workers on my roadway were paving it straight to hell.

Then, by the grace of God, I was reminded that there was a master road plan, and I simply needed to stick out the journey.

The road would soon be made clear for safe and productive passageway. Even if Hell’s very own paving crew was delaying my journey, and even if I had to smell their stench, God was allowing that to happen in my life. I had to learn to trust in Him and the plans He had laid for my journey. Amazingly enough, I found it much more comforting to learn to sit still in life’s traffic jams and sing praises to Him, rather than rush around looking for my own poorly planned (dead-end) detours. Since that time, I’ve only been able to become excited about the journey that lies ahead!

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  -Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

God’s intentions for our lives truly are good ones. It’s our own intentions that might send us seemingly traveling down the pathway to hell; and there may be spiritual forces who strive quite diligently to pave our path in that direction for us. But that has never been – and will never be – God’s desire for our lives. If His intentions were anything other than good ones, He wouldn’t have provided us with a direct pathway to Him through Jesus Christ. Our Heavenly Father’s intentions are, in fact, such good ones that He’ll use every road block, wreck and detour in our lives to place us back on track towards our journey with Him. Yet He’ll never restrain us from going a different direction of our own choosing. That very fact has humbled me to watch for His road signs much more carefully in my own life and to rejoice in the paving!