On the journey

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I’m writing en route from Boston to Seattle, where I’ll be living for about a month, attempting to keep (well, return to) a regular work schedule while participating in a family member’s effort to regain health. As departures from routine often do, I’ve encountered a couple of surprises during the journey. The first one isn’t so surprising, actually, given the prevalence of overweight in America; for those of you keeping score, the estimate is 145 million American adults, two out of every three of us. The percentage In the A-B-C portion of row 29 on the Atlanta-Seattle leg is actually quite a bit better — only one in three —but alas, the “one” has the middle seat, and I have the window, the worst combination there is. Despite her size, the young woman in the middle snuck up on me: I was the first of the three to arrive, and she walked right by the row at first, so I thought I’d escaped most every air passenger’s concern, that that fat person walking down the aisle might be headed for me. But she was either confused or decided to stow her luggage just aft of here, and then she came back with a demur “excuse me.” I don’t know her, of course — she’s been zzz-ing almost since she lighted — but I can relate to wanting to be as unobtrusive as possible in the situation. I’m quite familiar with the realm of seat overflow, belt extensions, and disdainful stares, because I have experienced the circumstances from both sides. I have purchased first class seats, and two coach seats on the same plane, to try to fit in. Given that, you might think that I’d have compassion for the woman, and sincerely I do, but, I concede, only as a matter of discipline and unevenly at that. As honestly as I can state it, I don’t want her using any of the scant space that Delta has allotted to me, either. Part of what I hope to do for her is not to speak, act, or gesture in any way that would add to whatever shame or embarrassment she is feeling in the situation. I’m willing to share with her my experience around my freedom from obesity, but not if the conversation doesn’t develop organically. Organic conversation is exactly what developed on the Boston-Atlanta leg. The steward saw my mondo cup, which I carry both to avoid adding to the trash stream more than I do and to facilitate large liquid portions as I go, and made a judgment or two, both of which were dispelled pretty quickly. Quite (though maybe not completely) innocently, she asked how many diet sodas I have per day, assuming it must be “at least a six pack,” she shared later in conversation. When I told her I carry the cup for trash reasons, she altered her perceptions a bit, and it led to further conversation. I'm tempted to recreate the conversation in depth, but I’ll spare you the blow-by-blow. What made it worth recounting was how quickly we found accord on so many topics that many people would hardly ever link together. (I commented to her, in marvel, how we’d gone from diet soda to God in less than five minutes.) So how did that happen? First, she observed that my drinking diet soda seemed disconsonant with my anti-trash stance, which I found profound, if only slightly. Though I absolutely use diet soda — and artificial sweeteners in general — I quite easily concede that they are trashy, and not only for all the packaging they engender. (I also acknowledge the absurdity of thinking that bottled water is a marketing-born environmental abasement, while participating in the ronde as long as they add a bunch of colorants and other chemicals to the water first.) From there it was an easy shuttle over to a discussion of nature, a juncture of where I started — trying to use less — and where she started — so much of what we consume isn’t healthy. (She seemed a natural (pun unintended, but accepted) for having read Pollan and Hawken and Paul Roberts, but she said she hasn't.) We talked about personal responsibility, and about how many of the women she encounters in her travels ask her how she stays so fit (we are the same age, but she's impressively slender). No soda is one thing, she tells them, to which many react, “Oh, I could never do that.” But we agreed that anyone can do that, and a lot more; they just have to want to. Would a cancer patient say of chemo or radiation, if medically indicated: “Oh, I could never do that?” Of course not. People can do plenty, if convinced they’ll be better off for doing it. I brought up my love and respect for biomimicry, which holds that nature already has whatever solution we need, and that we need only survey nature’s methods and adopt or adapt them, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel. (Well, wait, the wheel is actually one of humans’ better gambits, not taken from nature that I know of. Huh; I’ll have to look into that more.) Biomimicrists mostly address the built environment, but their guiding principle, that nature is wiser than humans — which are, of course, only a subset of nature, not something apart from it — is universal. From reverence for nature — a no-brainer that has taken me decades to understand and is still developing within me — it wasn’t far to God. I gathered that she's a Christian, beginning with when she asked if I’ve considered trying to get my book published by a denominational printing house. But by no means was dogma a bar to our agreements. One of my favorite points is that scientists and religionists need not be on opposite sides of a debate. To me, scientists merely (attempt to) describe the impossibly intricate plan of an amazing higher intelligence that has chosen not to share everything it knows to us. Evolution, for example: To me, it’s just one of God’s subroutines. The steward offered no dissent when I suggested as much. It was only when she said God and His Son (caps, out of respect for her viewpoint) are all the dogma necessary that I stopped saying amen. Regardless, I can’t get over — well, I haven’t yet — how this 10-minute conversation with a stranger covered so many of the essential thoughts that have been gathering in my thinking over the past couple of years. I don’t know yet if a singularity is forming — OK, probably not — or even if there is one to be formed, but it was thrilling to know that such seemingly disparate notions are coming together for others as well.

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