Friday, June 13, 2014

The Last Hour Of My Life

A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life. - Charles Darwin

Life isn't a matter of milestones, but of moments. - Rose Kennedy

Twice this week I have been asked to recount four airplane “events” I have survived in my many years of travel and after I shared the stories for the second time, something stood out that made me pause and reflect about how we spend the most valuable gift we have been blessed with – our time on this Earth.

Some years ago while returning from a business trip, I had an opportunity to experience some of the worst air turbulence in my 40+ years of travelling.  In the violent pitching and rolling that occurred, I suddenly felt a “bang” in the floor and for a moment I thought that we had popped a baggage compartment door and were spilling luggage all over the east coast.

The plane suddenly pitched up and after we had climbed above the turbulence, the pilot announced that he needed to speak to ops (flight operations) and that he would get back to us soon.  I thought “Ops?  That’s interesting.  That means we have a problem.”

For an hour we flew in a wide circle with no updates of any kind.  The pilot eventually came on the intercom and told us that we would be returning from whence we came and that we were to follow all instructions of the cabin staff.

We were taught the brace position required for emergency landings and then were left with our own thoughts for what could be the last hour of our lives.  A lady behind me was saying her Rosary, a few people were crying, some people were talking quietly and I, in typical fashion of always acting in a manner contrary to worrisome circumstances, was intent on finishing a book that I was rereading – The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale.

The lady sitting next to me asked me “How can you read a book at a time like this?”

My reply was basically along the lines of “I have two options, both completely out of my control.  I might hit the ground at 500 miles per hour, becoming a grease spot on the runway but feeling no pain as I am killed instantly.  If that happens, my insurance is paid up, my family will be taken care of and I will be remembered as the only person in my family to have been killed in a plane crash.  How cool is that?  My other option is that I will walk away from this totally unscathed and I will have an awesome story to tell.  So given that both options are out of my control and I know what all possible outcomes are, I have nothing else to do but read my book”.

With a mix of anger and incredulity, she told me I was crazy.

About an hour later, as I turned the last page of my book, an announcement came over the intercom that we were approaching our destination and that we were to start preparing for arrival by placing our personal effects, including shirt pocket contents, eye glasses and such in the seat pocket in front of us.

As the ground got closer, I quietly said my thank-you’s to everyone and no one in particular, asked for forgiveness for the mistakes I had made in my Life and when the call came for us to brace for impact, we all leaned forward and prepared to die.

Spoiler alert

After we had landed safely and the applause and yells from passengers had subsided, I turned to the lady sitting next to me and said “In the last hour of my Life, I finished a great book.  What did you do?”

She didn’t reply.

In a subsequent conversation with the pilot, I learned two things:

  • At the moment that the “bang” had occurred, we had experienced a structural integrity compromise (translation: something broke) and the airworthiness of the aircraft was unknown until we had safely touched down.
  • The pilot, who had been flying for more than 25 years, said that this event was in the top 3 scariest events of his Life.

When a pilot with that much experience and who isn’t bothered by things that bother passengers says this, that’s when you want to go back to the lavatory and throw up.

The Bottom Line

During this flight, I was given a warning by the flight crew that the last hour of my Life had potentially been identified and that it was now.

But in Life we don’t always get such warnings and in that realization, I wonder how we would live our personal, relational and professional lives if we believed that the next hour was to be our last, regardless of whether we were given a warning or not.

Most of us don’t live as if the next hour is our last.

I wonder what would happen to us individually and societally if we did.

What do you think?

Do you recognize the value of your time, especially given that you have a finite amount of it, once it is spent it cannot be reclaimed and you have no idea how much of it is remaining?

Are you sure?

Are your actions in congruence with your beliefs?

How do you know?

In service and servanthood.


PS – The Importance of Gratitude

All the passengers went back to the airline counter to rebook seats necessary to carry us to our original destination and I couldn’t help but notice the guys in front of me giving the lady at the counter a hard time about the impact of the delay on them, how airline staff didn’t know how to run an airline, etc.

When it was my turn, I expressed to the lady how grateful I was to be speaking to her and how I thought the airline’s maintenance program, training regimen and professionalism were the difference between me living and dying.

She thanked me, pointed to the guys that I had been observing and said “See those guys over there?  I have them on standby for tomorrow.  However, I’ve got an executive class seat for you on the next flight and here’s $75 “airport dollars” that you can spend anywhere in the airport for meals, souvenirs or anything else you need.”

Her actions remind me that kindness pays … especially when unexpected or when it seems most difficult to express.

Someone is waiting for your kindness in an unexpected way today.

What are you waiting for?

Addendum - February 9, 2017

I was reminded today that I have had five close calls (not four).  They include a cabin depressurization, a near mid-air collision on final, the structural integrity compromise noted in this post and two RPM governance failures on take-off.  In the latter, I've often considered them as one event because it occurred twice with the same aircraft on the same day.  Sound complicated?  On a flight some years ago, we experienced an RPM governance failure (which was explained to me later) on take-off that almost caused us to drop into the forest as we cleared the runway.  We made an emergency landing at an airport along the way, boarded a different aircraft and then proceeded to my original half-way point destination.  We waited for the aircraft that would take us to the final destination and when it arrived, I realized that I was seated in the same seat as on the original flight.  I knew this because I had noted when my journey began that someone had carved their name into the window shade and as I sat in my seat, I saw the name on the window shade again.  The airline in question had assumed that the aircraft issues had been addressed and had ferried the aircraft in to pick us up and take us to our final destination.  The assumption that the aircraft has been repaired turned out to be incorrect and we once again had an RPM governance device failure on take-off.  The resulting take-off, while completely successful with a dramatic acceleration, deceleration, acceleration (we were committed) finished with an equally interesting landing since the standard procedure for landing an aircraft with a failed RPM governance device is to land at full throttle.  It made for an interesting day.

For those who like to know technical stuff, the RPM governance device senses shaft RPM, and adjusts or controls the angle of the blades to vary the torque load on the engine. Thus as the aircraft speeds up (as in a dive) or slows (in climb) the RPM is held constant.  When this device fails, it is difficult to control the thrust of the engine (and thus speed of the aircraft) and so it is better to land at full throttle rather than risk diminishing the throttle and causing the engine to produce less power than desired.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Courage To Do Nothing

Solitude is the place of purification. - Martin Buber

The best thinking has been done in solitude. The worst has been done in turmoil. - Thomas A. Edison

I was reviewing someone’s reading list the other day and noted that the titles were themed around the 10 steps to this, the 5 steps to that and that all of his books were wired around action.

He and I discussed how the world lacked courage to do things and he indicated that by being constantly busy, he was demonstrating to the Universe that he had the courage necessary for success.

I replied by asking him if he ever had the courage to stop, do nothing and just be.  He paused, his brow furrowed and as he did so, I could tell that an answer to my question wasn’t coming easily for him.

In a text he sent me this morning, he’s still stuck on the question.

Those of us who are ultra type A spend our days learning, sharing, thinking (sometimes grinding), giving, expressing, creating (sometimes destroying) and executing but I believe that too often, we don’t take enough time for just being.

We receive thousands of emails daily / weekly from people who need help, advice, guidance or a connection to someone else we know.  We are bombarded with information and requests and in the cacophony that accompanies the activity that we are blessed to experience, we often neglect the greatest gift that all of us have been provided with – the gift that is the unique combination of our mental, physical, emotional and Spiritual selves.

And while a steady diet of knowledge acquisition and sharing matters, the cerebral part of our brain is not the only part of us that needs nourishment and rejuvenation.

Daring to do nothing

On the heels of an insane schedule that I have been told by people who know such things is not sustainable by mere mortals, I will be leaving the Earth as of Friday.

Well … not literally of course unless the line from the Styx song Come Sail Away is true.

I thought that they were angels but to my surprise
They climbed aboard their starship and headed for the skies

Many of us gauge our sense of self, our sense of value, our sense of worth, our sense of contribution and our sense of growth by how much we can accomplish in a day, how many people we can talk to, how many reports we can produce, how many Tweets we can make, how many Facebook likes we receive, etc.

I don’t.

On Friday, I will leave all my electronics at home and disappear for a few days.  Only one person will know where I am for the purposes of emergency contact.  If you attempt to reach me in any form, you will receive a polite notice that I cannot be found anywhere.

I’m taking four books with me:

They will be printed on paper and not in e-book format - I’m not taking electronics, remember?  There will be no books or papers on strategy, business, politics or technology – the worlds I live in about 20 hours a day, 7 days a week.

And of course, I will have my journal with LOTS of room for writing.

For three days, I will not know what the world is doing nor will I care. That being said, don’t blow it up while I am gone.  The world will not know what I am doing either which suits me just fine!  Please don’t ask others on social media if I have died just because I am not publicly visible (people have done this in the past).

I will read, write, reflect and contemplate but most importantly I will just be.

The Bottom Line

Henri Nouwen recognized the value of solitude when he wrote:

Solitude is very different from a 'time-out' from our busy lives. Solitude is the very ground from which community grows. Whenever we pray alone, study, read, write, or simply spend quiet time away from the places where we interact with each other directly, we are potentially opened for a deeper intimacy with each other.

I hear lots of people talk about the courage necessary to do this, that or the other thing.

That may be so but I think for the busy, engaged mind, sometimes it takes even more courage to stop doing and start being.

And maybe, just maybe, by doing nothing you are actually accomplishing much more than you realize.

What do you think?

The Bottom Bottom Line

Do you have the courage to unplug from the world for a few days?

Do you believe the world can survive without you during that time?

Do you believe that you can survive without the world during that time?

Do you believe that you know so much that a few days of solitude would offer little of value or substance?

Are you sure?

How do you know?

In service and servanthood,


Addendum – The Result - June 8, 2014

When one takes time to go from meeting overload ….


…. calendar overload ….

Calendar overload

…. communication overload …..

Communications Overload

…. and social media overload ….

Social media overload

…. to nature overload (click on the image for a larger version) ….


…. I am reminded of a spa’s advertising poster that I once saw in NYC where they noted:

Come in feeling like a dominatrix and leave feeling like Mother Teresa.

Well … the gender is wrong but the transformational effect this weekend was the same.

By the way, the flower in the picture is one inch tall from the ground to the top of the flower and there was only one there that I could see.

There’s also a metaphor contained within the photo.

Can you see it?

PS Thanks for not blowing up the world while I was gone.  It was also refreshing to relearn that the world and I were both able to live without each other for a little while without significant damage to either.