Saturday, July 17, 2010
Wrong plane, right conversation
En route to the West Coast to lead a new training for teachers of Active Dreaming, my first flight is delayed. I run from one end of Chicago's vast O'Hare airport to the other in hopes of making my connection. When I get to the gate at the end of the C concourse, the doors have just closed and the gate agent refuses, politely but implacably, to reopen them.
"But we have another flight leaving in thirty minutes," he says. "You might be able to get on it."
"On United? How can that be?"
"The other flight has been delayed over three hours."
Worth a try. I run to the other end of the C concourse to find a crowd of restless, edgy passengers massed around the departure gate. According to the board, there are over a dozen passengers on standby.
I study the airline agents at the gate. I pick the middle guy, who has added a touch of color and sartorial flair to his uniform.
"You are a magician," I inform him. "I know it will be your pleasure to magic up a seat fro me on this flight that does not exist."
He receives this calmly. "At the moment, the flight is fully booked. But check back when boarding is complete."
Fifteen minutes later, I am left alone with a bunch of hopeful standby passengers. The door is closing. Then a boarding pass is slipped into my hand. I get the last seat on the plane, the one that wasn't previously available.
So now I am crammed into a middle seat at the back of the bus, but I'm cheeful because I have avoided arriving six hours late, via another city, on the alternative routing the airline had given me on my voicemail. A cheerful fellow on my left strikes up conversation. He's a salt-of-the-earth, American blue-collar guy. He's worked for 33 years for the same company, and they've been loyal and good to each other. He's sure of his pension five years from now. But he has a big life issue. How does a guy retire? He has friends who couldn't make the adjustment and died within six months of retirement.
"If it were my life," I tell him, "it would be a matter of putting together my strongest passions with the skill sets I've acquired."
He's not sure whether he can name his ruling passions. But an hour or so later, after we've discussed many aspects of his life, I am able to offer the following:
"Listening to you, I have heard about a guy who loves
- the water and scuba diving
- the perfect martini
- driving and travel
- being part of a large and affecionate family or community
- sharing and giving back
and who knows a lot about
- containing and putting out fires
- retraining to go into a different element."
I continue: "If you heard a list of passions and skills like this that applied to another person, what kind of work would you envision for him?"
He thinks about it. "Maybe running an old-style diner by the beach, in North Carolina?"
He says he'll think about it some more. He adds, "I feel more mobilized than I've felt in decades."
He asks me what I plan to do when I retire. My answer: "When you love your work and do it for its own sake, you never retire."