Sunday, January 18, 2009

Stop and Read the Pamphlets

January 18th, 2009
Sunday Morning, 11:15

I don't believe in "Miracles". To me the word miracle is a widely overused word in our culture today. You hear it thrown around in all walks of life and at least once a week. In sports it is used obsessively as B student sportswriters try to make an event more dramatic then it truly was. "The Miracle on Ice", "That Miracle Season", "The Miracle at the Meadowland"; these terms all try to make the game bigger then sport and the writer is trying to persuade the reader into believing that some act of divinity helped to predict the outcome. I don't prescribe to that way of thinking. Don't get me wrong, it makes for a great read and a dramatic movie, but I don't buy it. It's sports, one team has to win, one team has to lose and no matter how you play it, in "sudden death" some people win and some people lose. It's the same in life. To me a miracle"happens" when preparation, opportunity and skill meet right at a perfect time. Dramatize it all you like, but its that simple.

See, I have never watched someone walk on water (outside of the movies), I have never heard some burning bush talk (movies again) and I have never seen a human fly (movies); I believe in reality. As the Prophet John Lennon once sang: "I don't believe in magic, I don't believe in bible, I don't believe in tarot, I don't believe in mantra, I don't believe in kings, I don't believe in Elvis, I don't believe in Zimmerman, I don't believe in Beatles, I just believe in me, Yoko and me, And that's reality." That about sums it up for me. Black and white, cut and dry, without the Hollywood ending, I don't really believe.

But something happened this week that makes one wonder. Something happened that made me think that 2009 (like I have been writing) will be a really incredible year. Something happened that never really happened before. Something happened that made me smile. One of those big grins that stays with you over days and leaves an imprint on your soul and spirit; it becomes permanent, it makes you want to breathe, exhale and push forward. See, this past Thursday, preparation, opportunity and skill met right at the perfect time.

I was in my home office working on Thursday afternoon and a friend called to see if I had the TV on. I didn't, so instead I logged on to the Web and searched for news about a plane that landed in the frigid waters of the Hudson River between my old home of New York and Hoboken, New Jersey. A world that feels a million miles away from my new home in Bucks County, PA. A world that will always be the sparkle in my eye; my world where opportunity developed my skill and it taught me about preparation.

At first, I thought the worst, I guess I always do. It is a defense mechanism that I have created which makes me prepare for the worst first and then work in reverse so I can get to the best plausible solution. I am always wrapping these scenarios in my head, preparing for the "what ifs". At first, I thought about that day in September when time stopped, I thought about what the timing of such an event would have on our country and our President-Elect and our way of life. At first I thought, oh no, I just did that trip the day before, flying into Newark from Chicago, looking at the Manhattan Skyline in wonderment as I always do, thinking about the past generations that built such an amazing temple to the modern world. At first, I let time stop.

And then, like something out of the movies, on-line I saw people standing on the wings of an airplane on the Hudson River. Do you know how improbable that is to imagine, let alone write? Then I saw the goodness of people as ferries from Hoboken and New York came to the rescue of 155 survivors on a flight headed from New York to North Carolina. I stared at hope right there on my laptop.

At that time, I exhaled, smiled and time started to move again. Think about it, we all watched something incredibly special on that day. We saw a meeting between preparation, opportunity and skill, in real-time, this time with a happy ending (great work Capt. Sully Sullenberger). I could hear the John Williams score playing in the background of my mind as the people were carried from the wings to the boats and made it "home" safe and sound.

As I wrote in my last post, I am amazed by the power of these social networking sites like Facebook. On Thursday, that site took this survivor story to a whole another level. In Facebook, as many of you know, if someone joins your personal social network, then they become your "friend". As we all know, we have various levels of friends in our walks of life. Some are best friends, some are old friends, some are people that if you spent more time with you know you would be better friends; there are friends that live down the road, across the country or around the world. Friend is one of those words in English that has various interpretations, but at its core, it means someone that you like and respect enough to tell others that "I know this person, he/she is cool and I will vouch for them."

Well one of my Facebook friends was on US Airways Flight 1549. The flight that landed in the Hudson. The flight on which EVERYONE survived. I watched the rescue of the survivors on my laptop and now I was writing in real-time with other friends as we discussed the improbability of what transpired. (Want to put the probability into perspective? According to the guys at the the Freakonomics site: "... Peter Thompson’s research found that there had been more than 150 million commercial flights since 1970 without a single water landing." That makes the odds 150 million to 1. Incredible.) A mere 15 hours after the events of Thursday afternoon, I was "chatting" via Facebook with one of the survivors of Flight 1549 on Friday morning. Amazing.

See me and this survivor are not "great friends". We know each other from work and have mutual friends that we are both better friends with. We all know the routine. Every time we have been out together, we have laughed and I have always walked away from our time together thinking this was a "cool" guy. We have actually gotten to know about each other more via Facebook and we have had some witty retorts over the past couple of months enforcing his "cool guy" status. But when I read about what this survivor did on the plane and heard other survivors name dropping him for the good deeds he did that day, this survivor went from "cool guy" to "uber cool" guy status.

And when I read the NY Times yesterday morning and saw that the first two paragraphs dedicated to his actions on that Thursday afternoon, this survivor when from "uber cool guy" to having Dave Grohl sing in my head every time I think of him now, "...There goes my hero, Watch him as he goes, There goes my hero, He's ordinary."

The beauty of this survivors heroic action supports my "miracle" definition. See he was sitting in the exit row and he had the responsibility of taking action if something drastic should happened. Most of us have sat in this row before. Most of us have been asked the questions "if we want to assume the responsibility", and to make sure we "read the pamphlet" about what one should do in case of an emergency. Well guess what, here is the person that actually did that! As the flight was descending, he pulled out the pamphlet, read it and applied the logic behind why the damn thing was even there in the first place, supporting the those 150 million and 1 odds as well. According to eyewitness reports, the said survivor opened the exit hatch, helped woman and children off the plane and most importantly, did it calmly. Someone cue up Mr. Grohl again.

As you have read from my post in December, most of my 2008 was shrouded around death; life ending, hopelessness, the inevitable. But on January 16th, I spoke to the antithesis of hopelessness, I chatted with someone who "cheated" the darkness, I read the word of a vibrant being that you just knew was going to have a phenomenal 2009. In hindsight, I think that is what I wrote to him. "You are going to have a great 2009." That and "hug your kids and hug your wife" and to read all the positive "comments" that friends and family wrote on your Facebook page. He responded back saying that he was going to do just that and he said "thanks for adding some humor during a crazy time."

While reading those simple words, I exhaled, smiled and 2009 started to move again; from out of the darkness of the end of 2008 to the hope and the improbable dreams of "The Miracles on the Hudson" and "That Miracles Season" & potential "Miracle in Glendale" (GO EAGLES!). Who knows, maybe I am wrong and all I need to do is read the next pamphlet someone hands to me and tells me to read, maybe the signs are all around and I just have not been looking.

Thanks Josh (man on the cell phone in the picture above) for making me want to read the pamphlets again...

NY Times
After Splash, Nerves, Heroics and Comedy
Published: January 16, 2009

Some passengers screamed, others tucked their heads between their knees, and several prayed over and over, “Lord, forgive me for my sins.” But a man named Josh who was sitting in the exit row did exactly what everyone is supposed to but few ever do: He pulled out the safety card and read the instructions on how to open the exit door.

US Airways Flight 1549 smacked the Hudson River the way a speedboat lands after jumping over a wake — with a thud that rattled teeth and nerves and stunned the cabin silent. It was as if everyone was waiting for someone else to shout in pain, and no one did.

Then Josh stood up. “Someone tried to pull the door in,” another passenger recalled, “and he said, ‘No, you’ve got to throw it out.’ He twisted it and threw it out.’ ”

Thus began some of the most harrowing minutes of what Gov. David A. Paterson described as the Miracle on the Hudson.

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