Tuesday, November 6, 2012

When I did not ask for adventure

When people ask what they should bring to my workshops, I tell them to bring their sense of humor (of course) and their openness to adventure. I find, in general, that these are also vital prerequisites for travel.
    I'm generally relaxed when my travel plans get screwed up because the Trickster comes into play and an unexpected story begins to unfold. I open one of my books (The Three "Only" Things) with five tales of extraordinary encounters that came about because I missed connections and found myself on itineraries I did not plan, on the "wrong" planes.
    It's been said that unless something goes wrong, you don't have a story. I have often quoted this with appreciation, and have even been known to say that I'll put up with just about anything that happens on the road as long as it has story value.
    I stopped talking this way prior to my recent return journey from Brazil. I had been spooked by a strange series of misadventures and long delays in flying back from Europe in mid-October, after being driven part-way off a cliff by a fox-cursed demon driver on a mountain in Romania. I was trying to keep up with the progress of Hurricane Sandy, with only sketchy wi-fi access. So I announced to my host, at Florianopolis airport last week, "I don't want any adventures on this trip. I'll be very happy to get home safely without a new story."

    Check-in was a breeze, first at Florianopolis, then at busy São Paulo Guarulhos airport. The flights left on time, and the news was that, while New York City was a mess, Sandy had barely touched my home area 150 miles north, and my home airport was open. I relaxed in my seat for the ten-hour red-eye flight from São Paulo to Atlanta, the middle leg of my journey.
     A man with a subcontinental accent excused himself to take the window seat next to me. As soon as he had settled into his seat, he turned to me and announced, "I had an adventure."
     Three days earlier, he told me, he had a major heart attack in 
São Paulo. He recognized the symptoms - chest pain, numbness in the left arm - because he had had a heart attack before. The hotel arranged to get him into a hospital with an excellent cardiac unit. After tests, the surgeon inserted three stents; he pulled up his right sleeve to show me where the tubes had gone in. He was able to leave the hospital the previous night, and here he was, taking a long overnight flight to Atlanta en route to his home in Arizona.
     I was amazed by the speed and smoothness with which this man had apparently got through his crisis. He explained that there had been a bit of a problem. The 
São Paulo hospital required cash up front; 1,000 reis (about $500) to get in the door, $30,000 for the whole procedure. Fortunately for him, the company he works for had wired the money. "And if you had not been able to produce $30,000?" "Then I would be dead."
     What was he doing in Brazil? He told me he is a veterinarian who specializes in chickens. He advises on how to reduce disease risks among poultry.
 asked the chicken doctor, "What effect has this knock on the heart had on you? Will it change you in any way?"
      He allowed that he might pay more attention to diet and exercise. But his response went much deeper. "I think I'll have more compassion now, because people have been kind to me. I'll spend more time with my nine-year-old daughter."

      He thought a bit and added, "I'll probably find myself asking, in the face of many choices, what really matters."
      I did not ask for an adventure on that trip, but I got one seated beside me.
      My final flight, from Atlanta to Albany NY, landed early. 


São Paulo Guarulhos airport photo by Rafael Matsunaga.

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