Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Airport as a Vale of Soul Making

In a letter to George and Georgiana Keats, John Keats called the world a vale of soul making. He talked about the sorrows of the world and how they develop our individual souls. If Keats lived today, he might talk more specifically about the airport.

I have no right to complain about the airport--I had smooth travelling during my recent vacation. But I'm intrigued by the way the airport can often bring out the worst in us, even when our travels are going well. Children cry or run wild, people yell into their cell phones, some jerks push and shove when it comes to claiming luggage, and other jerks treat the airplane staff in any number of rude ways. And then there's me, sitting there, being judgmental.

I tend to shift into sneering disdain mental mode when I'm at the airport waiting on a flight. When I can't get lost in a book, I look around and think mean thoughts about people. I eavesdrop on their cell phone conversations (which are usually the things which keep me from getting lost in a book) and make snarky comments in my head. I categorize my fellow passengers into unkind types (like women trying not to look their age or any variety of frumpy travelers or business type who wants us all to know how important he/she is). Why is it so easy to think such cold thoughts?

I hate myself when I get into this kind of snit. As Marcus J. Borg points out in The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith, "When I stand in a supermarket checkout line and all the people I see look kind of ugly, I know that my heart is closed" (page 154). We are called to have soft, open hearts.

When I find myself slipping into unkind mode, whether at the airport or the grocery store, I try to remember to pray. I know that we are all struggling with any number of issues, and I pray for God to help and guide us. I also pray that God would take my snarky impulses away from me.

I want to be the kind of person who views the world with compassion. When I find myself in situations where I'm acting less than compassionately, I try to see that as a learning situation, a training ground. With each situation, I move more quickly and easily into prayer.

Maybe at some point, I won't slip into negative snarkiness at all. Until then, I'll try to remember to pray--early and often.

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