After the class finished, James (he didn’t go by Jim), asked if we could talk. Another prof along with some students were already walking into the classroom. So, I invited him to the snack area on the first floor to have some coffee and chat time together.
We had done this before. He almost always demonstrated invigorating mental prowess. I expected that today would not disappoint me. In fact, as you will see, it didn’t.
We got our coffee, along with a donut, found a table. Today, James wasn’t too interested in small talk or chatter. He wanted to get right to the point.
It happened that a week ago, he was at the Milwaukee airport for a flight to Tampa as part of his job. James’ division boss had called an emergency meeting of the about ten top level employees to deal with production over-runs, which had begun to wreck havoc with the division’s budget. In this day and age, there was no space for that kind of behavior to continue. And, there was no way James could beg out of the meeting.
Due to security procedures that have become quite stringent and frequently time consuming, James walked into the terminal at 1:30 for the 3:30 flight. There was no way his boss would tolerate James missing the meeting because of missing the flight.
But, security went quickly, more so than James expected, leaving him with 90 minutes before boarding the 737. What to do with the time?
He ended up doing things that have only the value and function of “using up” the time. James called them “time killers.” He went to the book store, although he really wasn’t interested in buying anything. He spent about ten minutes looking out the window to see some flights arriving and departing. He stopped at the magazine and newspaper store to see what the headlines were. He opened the I Pad to see if there were any emails that needed an immediate response. While doing that, he thought he would check to see if the weather conditions in Tampa had changed at all since the morning when he had checked earlier. He got a cup of coffee, but only drank half of it.
Well, by this time in James’ story, I was wondering where he was going with all this. I knew he wasn’t telling this story without having a purpose. I didn’t have to wait very long.
“You know, Vernon, I suddenly realized that I was living with two different kinds of reality while in that terminal. One of the realities was populated with activities that had only transitory value. The other reality, the one that was significant, was getting on the plane. Those 90 minutes were just filled with “stuff” that was killing time until the desk clerk would say, “Now boarding flight 536 to Tampa.”
“Tell me, Vernon, was that experience like an epiphany? How much of life in general is like the things we do waiting for the boarding call? Is death like getting on the plane, with daily events like walking into the book store to see what books are on sale, and deciding to not get one anyway. Are we simply taking up time until we die, doing things whose value is no more than not doing them?”
What would you have said to James?????