March 12, 2010

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Air travel: The modern Lenten penance?

Cynthia DewesIt seems that Mom was right as usual. She always told us to wear clean underwear when we went out, just in case we were in an accident or something. That way, we (or she) wouldn’t be embarrassed by our tacky undies.

Because of that terrorist who tried to blow up an airplane on Christmas Day with explosives concealed in his underpants, the threat that Mom feared may become a reality. Soon airlines may require us to reveal our underwear before we get on a plane. After all, we already must remove our shoes because another terrorist tried to blow up a plane with explosives in his shoes! Will it never end?

Travel is so educational, as such examples prove. We have learned that we can blow up a plane by hiding things in our underwear or shoes. We have also learned that our security agencies, necessary as they may be, can’t invent a better safety system than punishing all of us because of finding a few evildoers on suicide missions.

We have learned, sometimes to our chagrin, that air travel is now almost the only way we can travel any distance. The United States is such a big country that the efficient European model of train travel is practically impossible to create here, plus everyone is in a huge hurry to get where they are going these days. Bus service is equally limited, not to mention having little glamour to its credit.

We have learned that our sole air travel option can be virtually impossible for many people financially. We used to think flying was a luxurious way to travel, mostly confined to the rich and leisured classes, but that was when we had alternative ways to travel. No more.

Now the skies are full of travelers on absolutely necessary business or personal trips. They may be able to afford the cost of the flight, but—surprise—there’s an extra charge to check baggage or to use a blanket or pillow on long flights. No food is served so there is a charge for edibles like peanut butter crackers or nachos and cheese. God forbid you might need a special diet. There is even a rumor afoot that there may soon be a charge for using the restrooms! Now that would take some practice to avoid!

In reading the diaries of Dorothy Day recently, I learned that she traveled widely throughout her life for peace rallies, speaking engagements or spiritual retreats and conferences. Sometimes she had a rattletrap car available for short, local trips or could be driven places by others, but for long distances she usually rode the public buses. Even then, this was not the most pleasant experience with bumpy rides and smelly passengers and other distractions.

Day wrote that she used the bus rides as times for meditation and prayer, and she often described the beauties of passing landscapes or the kindnesses of people she met. She reported her efforts to see Christ in every person, and God’s plan in every happening. It seemed that economy was not the only virtue of bus travel for her.

Maybe Lent is a good time to reflect on that. Instead of using our energy to agonize about air travel, maybe we could consider the beauties and kindnesses we discover on the journey. Maybe we should even smile at the poor guy who asks us to remove our shoes. It is something to meditate on like Dorothy Day did. Of course, she was a saint.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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