Tuesday, April 20, 2010



Grounded--that's been the word for many European passengers who had booked airline flights in the last week. As of right now, some of the flight restrictions have been lifted, but no one really knows what will happen in the next hour--or days. The last time this particular volcano in Iceland erupted, it kept spewing ash for eight months. Nature trumps all human plans.

Shortly after all the flights were grounded last week, my oldest son, who lives in London, phoned. As it turns out, he had been on the last flight into Heathrow that was permitted to land before that airport was completely shut down. He'd been working in the Middle East, and the rest of his team was stuck there--and stayed stuck there.

Although he lives quite a distance from Heathrow, his neighborhood is in the normal flight pattern for many landings and take-off's there. On Saturday, he called to tell me about a big picnic his family was having in their backyard and how nice it was not to have any planes flying overhead. He didn't realize until their disappearance what a constant background noise they made, even though the planes were still high above them. 

We also talked about the systemic effects of a prolonged European flight grounding. He predicted that soon less than seasonal fruits and vegetables would soon be in short supply for them--and probably over-supplied in the US since they have to go somewhere. Airlines and airports, of course, are being badly hurt financially over this, but trains are packed, hotels spilling over and anyone who owns a boat or ferry or taxi is cleaning up. He heard of one colleague who spent over $3,000 on a taxi to get from Paris to some place in Spain. And this is apparently not uncommon.

Big systemic effect--that's the situation. One thing affects another thing which affects many other things and everything ends up being changed. 

I think of those who are temporarily grounded right now, with their plans disrupted, and normal rhythms way out of sync. Will they be able to use this time to see things that have been invisible to them before? Just as my son suddenly discovered how nice it was not to have the background noise of the overhead flights for a while, will others find out that some of their patterns also might be bringing "background noise" that they'd might enjoy dispensing with for a while, or even longer? Will this forced stop give space to think more deeply about their lives, their choices, their relationship to things much larger than they are?

Many live as though their plans are all that matter. An event like this helps to re-evaluate such a mindset. We humans, who often think we have such power, really are pretty puny in the face of the natural world. Recognizing our puniness, in other words, some healthy humility, can serve as a big step to also recognizing the powerful love of God who was and is willing to accompany our puny little selves into every situation. A baby step, perhaps, but a way to see a temporary grounding as a huge blessing. 

We really are not in control of things. Our hope lies in a God who does hold all creation together, and One who can both laugh at our hubris when we chose to ignore or disparage the thought of such a God, and who also continually says, "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."  That is the place to be, whether flying or grounded.  


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