Friday, March 27, 2009
Death rhymes en route to Madison
I am catching an early flight on Thursday to keep my date as Death in Madison, Wisconsin, where I am leading a weekend workshop titled "Making Death Your Ally." I pause for a cup of coffee at the cafe near the A gates at my local airport. The old guy behind the counter has been working there forever, and always seemd happy to see me. But today he freezes before greeting me. "They're calling my dad" he explains, referring to an airport announcement I missed. "Steven Noble. That's my dad's name. Of course, he's dead."
"Maybe your dad is being called to a better place," I suggest as he works the coffee urn.
The announcement is repeated. "Passenger Steven Noble, please return to the security check."
"Or maybe your dad left something behind," I amend my suggestion.
"Maybe what he left behind was ME," says the guy behind the counter, thoughtfully, as he hands me my coffee.
On the first leg of my trip, I open a selection of William James's writings, acquired the day before, to an introductory chapter titled, "A Conversational Encounter with William James." The young woman in the seat naext to me gapes at the page, wide-eyed.
"That's my dad's name," she tells me. "William James." Another rhyming theme for the day is asserting itself; the first two people I encounter on the road recognize their fathers' names.
Changing planes at Chicago's O'Hare airport, I go to use a rest room on the F concourse. The scene inside the men's room is rather strange. Men are standing about motionless, all watching the maneuvers of a maintenance man who is down on the floor on his back, wriggling his large body so as to get his head and torso under the locked door of a stall. He sputters with shock or disgust as he gets far enough to unlock the door from the inside. Another janitor moves to block our view of whatever is inside the stall. After a muffled conference, one of them takes off in a hurry, pulling out a walkie-talkie. "Is there a problem?" I ask as he hurried by. "No problem," he responds, with a trace of dry humor. I don't need to ask anything more, because I get it. Death stopped by that rest room just before I did.
Now I'm on my second flight of the day, on the little puddle-jumper that will take me from Chicago to Madison. There's a hold-up. A woman airline staffer with a manifest explains, "We have an extra body on board." It seems there is one more passenger on the plane than is identified on her chart. She goes through the plane row by row, asking all of us for our names and our boarding passes. I notice that the woman across the aisle from me is readiing a mystery novel with a bookmark that says "Booked for Murder". The man next to me gives his name, when asked, as "Flatland." I turn to him and observe, "That's an unusal name." He explains that his family took the name from the district in Norway from which they emigrated. I tell him about the parable of Flatland devised by Edward Abbott to help us imagine what it would be like to see and operate from the fifth dimension instead of merely the 3D reality (plus time) we ordinarily inhabit. Abbott's Flatland is a 2D world in which everything is completely exposed to a citizen of 3D reality who can materialize and dematerialze and move things around in a godlike (or ET) fashion incomprehensible to inhabitats of the horizontal universe.
In the midst of this conversation, the mystery of the extra body is resolved. An infant has been assigned a seat in the manifest, though not a boarding pass. We are airborne, soon looking down on the dairy farms of Wisconsin cheese country.
At Madison's Dane County Airport, my friend Karen McKean, who is coordinating my Death workshop for me, is waiting next to a display case that features a curious composite sculpture with a skeletal figure with a Death's head at its center.
Death hasn't finished rhyming. When I arrive at the CBS studios for an interview with "Live at Five" I am given coffee in a black mug with the logo of a (Winnipeg) taxidermy company, "a family tradition." When I go on from the interview to have drinks with a friend before a bookstore event, she tells me she just dreamed her husband died, or a heart attack.
I've declared (in "The Three 'Only' Things) that "life rhymes." I've been reminded that Death rhymes too.
The photo of the Death sculpture at Dane County Airport is by Karen McKean, who leads Active Dreaming classes at her studio near Madison WI in addition to coordinating my area workshops.