Travel is so broadening ... or The Pilgrims Digress
Travel is so broadening ... or The Pilgrims Digress - by P.K.Odendaal - September 2013.
By this time you have gotten used to my mind wandering in totally different trajectories than my body and you have gotten used to look deeper at things than what you can see. The occasion is my visit to South Africa. I prepare my body for this arduous journey of 25 hours - drastically down from the 43 hours it took me in 2002 - from Canada to South Africa.
Well, the logistics of such an itinerary is quite easy to understand but what we do not see is quite complex and hidden from the eye.
This time I travel business class which everybody should try if you can afford it because here you meet Sue, George and Peter and not Tom, Dick and Harry to whom you have grown accustomed having squeezed yourself into economy seats for too long. The legroom in these economy seats has grown smaller and smaller over the years and it is quite unimaginable that it can be made even smaller, but I am sure the airlines will find a way to do that.
However, aircraft legroom space is not my main bone of contention today. It is the beautiful and hidden story of the Pilgrims Progress which plays itself off in the background of this journey which is a metaphor for our journey to the Celestial City. To appreciate that I wish to introduce you to that classic story, written in the form of a dream by John Bunyan (1628-1688), because he was not allowed to preach in England being a lay preacher and he was actually jailed for doing so. It is a must read for all Christians.
The story is the travels of a man named Christian, living in the City of Destruction, realising that he should soon leave that city for the Celestial City, lest he should die in the City of Destruction in the day of its impending destruction.
He meets many obstacles in his way, of which the main ones were:
The Fair in the town of Vanity. And, as in other fairs of less moment, there are the several rows and streets under their proper names, where such and such wares are vended; so here, likewise, you have the proper places, rows, streets, (namely, countries and kingdoms,) where the wares of this fair are soonest to be found. Here is the Britain Row, the French Row, the Italian Row, the Spanish Row, the German Row, where several sorts of vanities are to be sold. Ultimately his friend Faithful is killed here because he did not want to buy their goods.
Along the way he is met by Apollyon who nearly slayed him by straddling his path and being ready to spill his soul, by the giant Despair who locked him up for long, by Mr Worldly Wisdom who made him loose his way being directed by Mr Legality living in the town of Morality, who would illegally relief him of the burden on his back ... and many others.
If you read closely you will find this story coming alive in my flight.
What I actually intended doing was to serve you an American Hamburger, with two dried pieces of bread on the sides, having reached their shelf life - in the form of two travel companions, and a big piece of meat on the inside, which is my digress from this journey into the journey of Christian.
I know I am at a huge disadvantage for not travelling economy class as it is in that class that you really get to know the nice people. But I accept the disadvantage and keep my eyes and senses sharpened like the observer in A Ship of Fools. Young people have not seen this 1960's film - so sorry for them. Maybe my flight in the next two days in an aeroplane will not be much different from The Ship of Fools. After all - this is an airship.
Whilst I contemplate the disadvantages of my flight in business class - breaking bread with the Upper Crust, I am very aware of the words of Robert Townsend - the former CEO of AVIS who turned AVIS around to become a world player. You might want to read his book: Up the Organisation - written for those who are not prepared to climb the corporate hierarchal mountain - a mountain even higher than Mount Everest. I was never prepared to do that. Canned fish and canned careers were never my strong point.
Robert Townsend said that if you are the CEO of a big organisation you get to work when the white collar guys come to work - not when the Fat Cats do. That way you get to speak to all the thin cats of the organisation. You ask them about FROG - not a word he invented, but invented many years later by another bright guy. FROG stands for Family, Recreation, Occupation and Goals. If you speak to a person about his FROG and you listen intently you will be his friend for life. My own method is much more deceitful. I will tell a guy in the elevator at work that I like his tie, if he wears one, and he would instantly bloom even if he inherited the tie from his miser Uncle Sam and it has many food stains on it.
An act in one part by William Shake - without the Speare.
Dramatis Personae: Myself, my wife, Errol and Person B. The latter person will go incognito through life feeding only himself and has no interest in mankind in any of its forms, colours or creeds.
So it is with trepidation that I join Sue, George and Peter in the business Lounge at Edmonton Airport - and here I meet Errol. He is a very successful South African businessman who extended his business into Canada with a very successful business concept - too simple to explain. In my family I am called by the name of Doctor Engineer Attorney Odendaal - without the MBE - South Africa not being an Empire yet, but may soon be, whereupon I am sure my family will extend my credentials to include that as well. Not because I have a clue of a physic or of a law, but mainly because I am not from the Blind School. I see Errol is about fifty years old and totally overweight. His stomach precedes his arrival by about 300mm - and I have heard Dr Oz talk about an Omentum - probably a concept quite different from a Momentum. Errol tells me that he flew from South Africa for a two day meeting in Canada and on this trip back to South Africa he has to attend a business meeting in London during the few short hours of his stop over. He also tells me that that is the pace of his life. I tell my wife that I give Errol five years to live on the outside. It is that simple. If we cannot explain any phenomenon on its most basic and simple level according to Occam's Razor, then we better ask our school fees back. It does not take a physician to see this and to prescribe some pills. Even exercise for such a person is quite futile.
I know the story so well of the overweight patient who was advised by his Doctor to take up Golf to shed his weight. After about three months he was back at the doctor with the same weight. The doctor asked him whether he did not take his wise counsel and took up Golf as instructed. He replied: 'Now listen here doctor, when I place the ball where I can see it I cannot hit it and when I place it where I can hit it, I cannot see it. For those, exercise is useless.
So the time has come to board flight XXX to Heathrow, and I take up my position just shy of line astern. After take-off I suddenly realise that I have willingly entered the City of Destruction. Aircraft are known to kill people indiscriminately. Almost anything is possible on any flight, and being a pilot myself, I think of on board fires, sudden decompression, mid-air collisions, running out of fuel, hazardous meteorological conditions and many more. What can I do?
I immediately think of the words of the Professor in The Sunset Limited: 'It's that the world is basically a forced labour camp from which the workers - perfectly innocent - are led forth by lottery, a few each day, to be executed.' In the situation he used it, it was perfectly false, but here in this context it is perfectly true - and that shows you the fallacy of repeating conventional wisdom.
We here in business class all long for the luxury or utopia of the Business Lounge at Heathrow Airport - and that is our Haven. And we are all pilgrims on this flight to the Haven at Heathrow.
After some hours flying, we reach London Heathrow Airport. Now listen carefully. I did not know about the analogy beforehand, but if you imagine my story, interspersed with bracketed comments, you will know how to get to Heaven.
I have a business class boarding pass and it is well known that you can enter the Gate at the business lounge (Heaven) at the airport for free just by producing your business class boarding pass (ticket to Heaven). If you are an economy class traveller (a person from the City of Destruction - one without the right ticket) you will not know this, and you will also not see the very small signs in the terminal which points you to heaven, because you do not know about it and do not believe it, even if you saw those signs. You will not even be interested in looking for them - but they are there and people who look for that lounge believe in them. When I get to the lounge which is quite hidden as you need to change elevators and floors regularly in an almost nonsensical way - specifically so that Tom, Dick and Harry cannot get there by accident. The lounge is indeed a Haven for weary travellers set up there by someone who knows the plight of these travellers.
But to have gotten there we had to pass through Vanity Fair. The terminal is overcrowded with shops wanting to sell you the things of the world. No, not things you need, but only things you desire. That is a Vanity Fair big time. At every few shops my wife stops me to enable her to look at those glittering things, and I stop, but impatiently do so because I have a greater goal in mind - one where my aching body (thirsting soul) can relax and be quenched.
Boarding the next flight to South Africa, I get to sit right next to a very important person travelling with me in business class. There is only an adjustable privacy screen between us. When I sit down he does not greet me, but immediately raises the screen so that he does not need to see this pleb who borrowed money for his business class ticket (me). I immediately know that this is Mr Important, because I have met him many times before. While we are waiting for the late refuelling of the aircraft, he is the one that makes or receives seventy five phone calls from you know not where. He is quite lean, and I cannot condemn him to eternal salvation like Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing (Shakespeare). I can see the contempt he radiates when the flight attendant lowers the screen to serve me. But this is not my first Rodeo. Through the screen I can watch him as he clenches his fist so that the knuckles becomes pure white. I observe and contemplate this for about thirty minutes, and then tell my wife that he is going to die even before Errol. I do not need to study thousands of medical books to see that - I only need to see his own inner stress being manifested in his knuckles. And I know that type of stress kills fast. It is insidious like poison or knowledge - both of which are very lethal and deadly. Exeunt bread two.
Of course I do not get uptight about being ignored. I stay calm. I am such an ardent lover of passivity in all its forms, and if it was not that I served the God of Heaven and Earth, I would have served the god of Relaxation and Lethargy - or even the one named Minding My Own Business. I would have served them with all the lethargy I have. And this last sentence of course was the garnish!