"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Photo Essay: Hamburg, Germany


When I posted about my fainting episode on my flight to Germany, I mentioned I had a free afternoon to spend in Hamburg, and that I and the work associate I was traveling with walked around town.  I promised I would share some of the pictures I took.  I’ll call this blog on these pictures a photo essay, but that’s a rather fancy title for some humble snaps.  So don’t think I’m being pretentious.  These photos were spur of the moment clicks off a point and shoot and I have not done any editing improvements to them.

Nonetheless, I’m going to dedicate this blog to one of the Stewardesses who came to my aid on the plane, Annkatherin.  In our conversation while I had the oxygen mask over my face she told me that Hamburg was the city in which she grew up, and as I boarded off the plane she told me to say hello to her city. 

I also have to admit, I have very little idea what exactly the subjects in the pictures are.  I had a map as a guide as we walked, but the map was in German.  The lady at the hotel told us to take the subway (hotel was by the airport, north of the city) south to the harbor, and from there we could walk around and see some of the sights.  We had a heck of a time trying to get subway tickets.  It was some sort of machine that you put money into and tickets come out.  But it wouldn’t take the money at first—I suspect we were doing something wrong—and then we had no idea what option we were supposed to select.  A kind elderly lady helped us out, but she didn’t understand English and she didn’t understand the machine that well herself.  But she was persistent in helping us (God bless her) and finally we got two round trip tickets to downtown.  Funny thing, at the end when she said goodbye, she said it in Italian, and found out she spoke Italian.  We might have done better communicating with my pidgin Italian. 

As you can read in the Wikipedia entry , Hamburg is the second largest city in Germany and the ninth in the European Union.  It’s got 1.8 million population, and the subway was fairly extensive, not quite as complex as New York City’s which I’m used to, but perhaps as complex as Washington D.C.’s if anyone is familiar with that one.  We had to take two trains to get to the harbor.  The trains were very quiet.  I’m used to the rattling, jangly, grating New York City subway cars.  But the Hamburg cars were smaller and more compact.  Interesting too was that the doors didn’t open automatically on exit; you had to open the doors from the inside if no one was lined up outside to come in.  Also I found it odd that at some stations the platform wasn’t roughly the same height as the train floor height.  You had to step up into the train or down into the station, which I thought was a bit dangerous.  Overall, though, I was impressed with their subway system.

Hamburg is situated on the Elbe River which flows into the Baltic Sea.  The city’s key geographic feature is the river and its harbor is the second largest in Europe.  So we started in what could be called an inner harbor, walked west for a couple of miles on a promenade, went inland (north) for half a mile, making our way to a section named St. Pauli (not where the beer by that name comes from, but as I’ve found out where The Beatles lived while their stay in Germany before they became famous) by a legalized red light district—no, we did not explore or stop there—to far east of the harbor, and back down to the inner harbor.  We walked for a good four hours, and I’m estimating we walked for about seven or eight miles.  But being tired made the beer at dinner taste exceptionally good.  So here are some pictures.

Here’s a good shot of the harbor.  It’s a very large river.

 

 Here’s a view of the promenade we walked on, with a view of the buildings on the hillside overlooking the harbor.

 

 

I’m not sure what this tower is, but it seemed that every peak had a clock on it.

 

 

I think this ornate building is their equivalent to City Hall.

 

 

And in the courtyard behind City Hall is this lovely fountain.

 

 

And this stately building in a charming side street says Alle Post, which might be a post office.  No clue.

 

 

Now this burnt out church is a former Lutheran Church namedSt. Nikolai.  It was burnt out during bombings during WWII, but it had the distinction of being the tallest building in the world in 1876. 

 

 

 

 
I have no idea why this statue was in the church courtyard but it's rather interesting, though I don't see the religious significance.
 

 
By the river there are these side streets that are actually channels (or are they canals?) that have buildings and overpasses.  They were among the prettiest communities we passed by.

 

 

 

 

 

 
Finally back to the inner harbor at sunset.

 

 

 Hope you enjoyed it.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Faith Filled Friday: Notable Quote: St. Paul of Tarsus


This is a combination Faith Filled Friday, Notable Quote, and coordination to my previous blog on ifferism.  How’s that for synthesis?  This is a most famous quote by a most famous man.  For some reason this quote escaped Dr. Marty Grothe for his book.

 

If God is for us, who can be against us?

        - St. Paul of Tarsus, Romans 8:31


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Book Excerpt: ifferisms by Dr. Mardy Grothe

For those that don’t normally read my long book reviews, read this one.  I promise you, you’ll enjoy this one, and you’ll get something out of it.

 
ifferisms: An Anthology of Aphorisms that begin with the word if is the full title of the book.

I have as a rule to my reading selections that one book per year is picked on the subject on either writing or language.  As you can tell from my blog, I love reading and writing.  I try to improve on my writing, and, contrary to some opinion, you don’t become a good writer from osmosis; you have to learn and work at it.  And so to ensure I’m always learning, I read one book per year to expand my ability.  Such books can be dry.  This year I stumbled across this really funbook.  
 

 
This is a book about the use of aphorisms by using the conjunction, if.   An aphorism, as the author of the book points out, is “a tersely phrased statement of a truth or opinion; an adage.”  For instance, “The heart has reasons that reason knows not of” is an aphorism by Blaise Pascal.  It is to the observation of Dr. Grothe that “while most aphorisms do not begin with the word if, there are many thousands that do.”  Here are some common ones that float general parlance: “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”  “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”  “If life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”

Dr. Grothe dubs the aphorism using if as an ifferism, and his book collects some of the “most compelling quotations” using the “if” structure.  It’s a fun read, as you’ll see by the various quotes I pick out.  The book is organized into subjects of ifferisms, such as Words to Live By, Wit and Wordplay, Age and the Stages of Life, Gender Dynamics, Sports, Politics, Business, and so on. 

If I were writing the book, I might re-organize it into rhetorical types of ifferisms—that is, types of communicative devices—and types of sentence structures that aid in rhythm or emphasis.  The rhetorical devices I found—I’ll conflate them down to four but there are technically many devices— in perusing the book are analogy, contrast, undercut, and reasoning.  The sentence types are those that delay, those that balance, those that are front half loaded, and those that are second half loaded. 

I’m going to provide some of Dr. Grothe’s examples to show how powerful a technique an ifferism can be and hopefully to sharpen your writing by inspiring you to use it.

First let’s look at the rhetorical devices.                                                                                            

1. Analogy

Analogy in its simplest definition is a comparison through similarity.  Here is a comparison by Bob Hope between lack of charity and heart trouble:

If you haven’t any charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble.
           -Bob Hope


The movie and drama critic, Rex Reed, used an ifferism to vividly describe Tennessee Williams’, the great playwright, voice:

If a swamp alligator could talk, it would sound like Tennessee Williams.
            -Rex Reed

 
And then the great wordsmith H.L. Mencken had a particular anatomical comparison for the city of Los Angeles:

If Los Angeles is not the one authentic rectum of civilization, I am no anatomist.
            -H. L. Mencken

 
And Johnny Carson used a remarkable ifferism to demonstrate the unfairness of life by comparing it to Elvis and his impersonators.

If life were fair, Elvis would be alive and all the impersonators would be dead.
            -Johnny Carson


2. Contrast

Contrast on the other hand is a comparison to accentuate differences.  Martin Luther King, Jr. had a wonderful contrast between standing and falling for those with values and those without.


If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.
            -Martin Luther King, Jr.

 
 
Bill Safire, another great wordsmith, used the contrast of feelings and thoughts to compare poor and good communication.


If you want to get in touch with your feelings,” fine—talk to yourself, we all do.  But if you want to communicate with another thinking human being, get in touch with your thoughts.

            -William Safire

 
The writer Michael Crichton had this contrast of self awareness and without with this ifferism to show the importance of learning history.

 
If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything.  You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree.
            -Michael Crichton

  

The Italian film director Bernardo Bertolucci created one of the most hilarious ifferisms to contrast New York and Hollywood, though I’m not exactly sure what he means.

 
If New York is the Big Apple, then Hollywood must be the Big Nipple.
            -Bernardo Bertolucci

 


3. Undercutting


By undercutting I mean to say that a high ideal or paragon or pride is brought down to ridicule, derision, or is just simply razzed.  Here’s another one poking fun at California, which seems be a pattern in the book.

 
If you stay in California, you lose one point of IQ every year.
            -Truman Capote

 
Dennis Miller had a great way to make a serious point with this one.

If you’re saying you didn’t know cigarettes were bad for you, you’re lying through the hole in your trachea.
            -Dennis Miller

 
Ann Coulter, the political commentator actually titled one of her books using an undercutting ifferism.


If Democrats Had Any Brains, They’d Be Republicans
            -Ann Coulter, title of book.
 

And this form is just made for comedians and undercutting jokes.  Here are two by two old comedians.

 
If you want to see a baseball game in the worst way—take your wife along.
            -Henny Youngman

 
If it weren’t for pickpockets, I’d have no sex life at all.
            -Rodney Dangerfield

 

4. Reasoning

 
And finally under rhetorical devices I conflate a number of types with “reasoning.”  By reasoning I’m referring to the process of a logical flow of deduction, induction, or development of thought.  The great ancient Roman, Cicero, constructed an ifferism to sum up the requirements to a perfect life.


If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.
            -Marcus Tullius Cicero

 
The football head coach, Vince Lombardi, reduces why you play to this.

If it doesn’t matter who wins or loses, then why do they keep score?
            -Vince Lombardi

 
I have no idea who Ruby Manikan was, but she came up with an ifferism for the ages.

If you educate a man you educate a person, but if you educate a woman you educate a family.
            -Ruby Manikan

 
The actress Candice Bergman used an ifferism to deduce why God is not a woman.

If God were a woman, She would have installed one of those turkey thermometers in our belly buttons.  When we were done, the thermometer pops up, the doctor reaches for a zipper conveniently located below our bikini lines, and out comes a smiling, fully diapered baby.
            -Candice Bergen

 
And finally this simple ifferism placed in the jury all the doubt required to judge OJ Simpson not guilty.


If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.
            -Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr.

 


I will need to preface the sentence types.  Great writers employee strategies to their sentence syntax.  There are times you want to place the emphasis toward the beginning of a sentence and there are times you want to place it at the end.  There are times you want the sentence to reflect balance and times you want to have it sort of appear lopsided or project movement.  The ifferism has a natural schism in its if-then structure, a sort of split that allows manipulation for these types of sentence structure effects. 

 

1. Front half weighted sentences:

 
If you want to place the emphasis at the beginning part of the sentence, you can build the verbiage around the “if” half of the sentence.  Here’s Martin Luther King Jr. again.  Notice how the onus is built up in the first half, the part where self assessment is being probed.

 
If a man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.
            -Martin Luther King, Jr.


The key point of the author, Somerset Maugham, in this ifferism is built by expanding the details in the first half of the schism.

If you can tell stories, create characters, devise incidents, and have sincerity and passion, it doesn’t matter how you write.
            -W. Somerset Maugham

 
Norman Mailer does something similar here but with more bite.

If a man is not talented enough to be a novelist, not smart enough to be a lawyer, and his hands too shaky to perform operations, he becomes a journalist.
            -Norman Mailer
 

2. Back half weighted sentences:


A back half weighted sentence blooms with fullness from the germ implanted in the first half.  One of my favorite writers, D. H. Lawrence, does it masterfully here:


If only we could have two lives: the first in which to make one’s mistakes, which seem as if they have to be made, and the second in which to profit from them.
            -D. H. Lawrence

 
And Benjamin Franklyn constructs this very dramatic metaphor which blooms into meaning.

If a man empties his purse into his head, no man can take it away from him.  An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.
            -Benjamin Franklyn

 
And George Orwell in his Animal Farm constructed this notable gem.


If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.
            -George Orwell

 

3. Balance

There are times when a writer wishes to present the reader with balance, suggesting harmony and classical unity.  The best sentences that are crafted for balance not only give equal weight to the two halves, but have either an echoing effect or a mirroring effect.


Napoleon Hill, writer of personal success books, penned this gem using the echo effect.  Notice how “conquer” and “self” echo between the two halves of the schism.

If you do not conquer self, you will be conquered by self.
            -Napoleon Hill

 
And the Native American writer, Chief Dan George, illustrates how a mirror effect can create a memorable quote.  Here “old” mirrors “young” and “remember” mirrors “listen.”

If the very old will remember, the very young will listen.
            -Chief Dan George

 
Finally if you can combine both echo and mirror effects into one ifferism, then you really have a powerful statement.  Notice how Oprah Winfrey and novelist Elizabeth Von Armin do both in their respective ifferisms.

If you look at what you have in life, you’ll always have more.  If you look at what you don’t have in life, you’ll never have enough.
            -Oprah Winfrey


If you have once thoroughly bored somebody it is next to impossible to unbore him.
            -Elizabeth Von Arnim

 

4. Delay

 
And finally, still another sentence technique is to create anticipation by delaying the completeness of meaning.  Margret Thatcher, always the combatant politician, gave this advice in the form of an ifferism by delaying the punch late in the sentence.

If you are guided by opinion polls, you are not practicing leadership—you are practicing followship.
            -Margaret Thatcher

 
German poet, Rilke, gave this sage critique of those who did not find magic in life.

If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches.
            -Rainer Marie Rilke


In one of the most beautifully constructed sentences using an ifferism, Ernest Hemingway opened his memoir of his life as a young expatriate in Paris with this perfection of delay.

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a movable feast.
            -Ernest Hemingway, from A Moveable Feast

 
And finally Jonathan Swift, ever the curmudgeon, used delay to zing the French, who perhaps were the Californians of his day, in this surprise twist.

If a lump of soot falls into the soup, and you cannot conveniently get it out, stir it well in, and it will give the soup a French taste.
            -Jonathan Swift

 

So can you come up any ifferisms?  Here are a few I’ve thought up.

 
If your son cries in the night, and you’re too tired to get up, does he actually make any noise if you tighten your eyes shut and let the wife get up to take care of him?

 

If crickets crick all night, they will croak by daylight.

 

If a Californian dude with a ponytail walks by you with a wink and a surfboard, he’s looking to board your surf.

 

If you forget your wedding anniversary, best to open up the handiest umbrella, because the shit is most definitely going to hit the fan.

 
And how about one more I through together in the form of a poem:
 

If you sit on a beach at the foot of the surf
 waiting for the morning sun
to peak over the horizon,
           

and if you wait for the rays to find
an opening through the clouds
silhouetting morning birds across the sky,      
 

and just as the waves speak
their ever humble prayer
and the light finds its way to your feet,
 

praise the Lord, Jesus Christ,
for morning glory is upon you.          

Friday, September 20, 2013

Faith Filled Friday: Prayer From St. Clare of Assisi

I came across this wonderful prayer from St. Clare that was worth sharing.  You can read about here here and here


"I come, O Lord, unto Thy sanctuary to see the life and food of my soul. As I hope in Thee, O Lord, inspire me with that confidence which brings me to Thy holy mountain. Permit me, Divine Jesus, to come closer to Thee, that my whole soul may do homage to the greatness of Thy majesty; that my heart, with its tenderest affections, may acknowledge Thine infinite love; that my memory may dwell on the admirable mysteries here renewed every day, and that the sacrifice of my whole being may accompany Thine."
St. Clare of Assisi




Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Music Tuesday: Warren Zevon Appreciation

I was so surprised today when I saw over at First Things  an article on the rock composer and performer, Warren Zevon First Things is a rather high brow religious magazine (mostly traditional Christian and to my perception with a Roman Catholic emphasis, though dedicated to ecumenism) and their internet site allows access to some of their articles.  I love Warren Zevon’s music, but I found it odd that they would have an article on him.

 
Some bare facts about Zevon.  You can also read his Wikipedia entry.  His parents were friends with Igor Stravinsky and he visited him and inspired Warren to be a musician.  But his parents would divorce, making Warren the product of a broken home.  He was a prodigy.  He was composing folk and rock songs while still in his teens and by his early twenties was composing for movies and other performers.  He produced his first album by the mid seventies and went on to have an up and down career, mostly because of the quirky nature of his songs (they weren’t exactly pop oriented) and because of his drug and alcohol problems.  I have to say I think his music is more than quirky; it’s distinct, polished, and innovative.  He’s always had the respect of major musicians.  Unfortunately Zevon acquired cancer and died prematurely at the age of 56 in September of 2003.

Some of his songs you regularly hear on the radio today are “Werewolves of London” (his one big hit), “Lawyers, Guns, and Money,” and “Excitable Boy.”

The focus of the Zevon article at First Things was on the one hand a ten year anniversary retrospective of his passing, but also how he had secretly held on to his religious faith.  From the article: 

For all his talent, however, Zevon had a dark side. For much of his life, he was a serious alcoholic and suffered from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. He wrecked his marriage with frequent affairs. At times, he was better known for his flights of rage than his music. And yet, as terrible and inexcusable as his behavior could be, Zevon’s relatives and friends still remember him with much affection. There are many reasons for this, but one of them may be that Warren Zevon was a man of quiet, resilient faith.
 

Faith is not something usually associated with the rocker who belted out “Werewolves” and wrote the even more macabre “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner.” But faith there was.
 

In 2002, after he was stricken with terminal cancer, and given just three months to live, Zevon was asked whether his illness had changed his spiritual outlook. “No,” he said without hesitation, “I’ve always been a Christian.” Testifying to that is the cross Warren wore around his neck during the last year of his life. Everywhere he was seen during that period—on a VH-1 documentary, on the David Letterman Show, in his recording studio—it was seen, too.

 
Zevon said, “I’ve always been a Graham Greene guy, haven’t I? It’s alluded to in many albums.”

 
Graham Greene is the British Roman Catholic writer of some of the best novels of the 20th century.  It’s not clear from anything I read why Zevon would be attracted to Catholicism, or even Christianity.  His father was Jewish and his mother Mormon.  His ex-wife in a memoir described how when in Spain they would attend a Catholic church:
 

We went there often and just sat and held hands. It was Catholic, and he decided we should convert. He meant it. . . . He bought me a little gold cross to wear around my neck and told me we’d have a dozen babies and he’d play whatever music suited him and life would be grand. I wasn’t too enamored of the Catholic part, but I did love the reverence it brought up in him.

 
There’s more in the article on how he almost went through with the conversion, and perhaps he did for all we know.  I don’t know why pop stars have to hide their religion—I guess I do, there’s a public animosity out there that would characterize and therefore limit an entertainer’s appeal—but it warms my Catholic heart that Zevon was attracted to the spirituality and beauty of Catholicism.  I didn’t know that about him.

 
In my appreciation post here, I want to highlight a few of my favorite Zevon songs.  I was knocked out with “Lawyers, Guns, and Money” the minute I first heard it.  Quirky for sure, but an odd take on the Cold War of the time, taking on a sort anti-heroic James Bond character.    

 
 

 
Quirky is one aspect of Zevon’s songs, and that’s what seems to be highlighted, but what I think is the other major aspect is a melancholy self pity from his inability to overcome his dysfunctions.  Here is his beautiful song of addiction and love, “Carmelita.”

 

Here are the first stanza and chorus.

 
I hear Mariachi static on my radio
And the tubes they glow in the dark
And I'm there with her in Ensenada
And I'm here in Echo Park

Carmelita hold me tighter
I think I'm sinking down
And I'm all strung out on heroin
On the outskirts of town

 

There are several elements to Zevon’s music I find innovative.  The way he fills the background sound space with vocals and accompaniment is one.  It sounds closer to classical vocal accompaniment to my ear than pop songs.  Listen how arranges the backing vocals on “Accidently Like A Martyr” while the piano and electric guitar weave a sad melody around it.

 
 

I would be remiss if I didn’t highlight the amazing lyrical brilliance in that song’s chorus:

 
We made mad love
Shadow love
Random love
And abandoned love
Accidentally like a martyr
The hurt gets worse and the heart gets harder

 
In one little stanza he yokes together the effervescence of true love with a self destructive fateful end.

 
And finally I want to post what I think is his best composition, a song that combines the quirkiness, melancholy, the innovative arrangement, and the self pity at his self destructiveness, “Desperadoes Under The Eaves.”  I’m going to quote all lyrics on this one.  And that sad violin intro is absolutely perfection.

 
 

 
 

I was sitting in the Hollywood Hawaiian Hotel
I was staring in my empty coffee cup
I was thinking that the gypsy wasn't lyin'
All the salty margaritas in Los Angeles
I'm gonna drink 'em up

And if California slides into the ocean
Like the mystics and statistics say it will
I predict this motel will be standing until I pay my bill

Don't the sun look angry through the trees
Don't the trees look like crucified thieves
Don't you feel like Desperados under the eaves
Heaven help the one who leaves

Still waking up in the mornings with shaking hands
And I'm trying to find a girl who understands me
But except in dreams you're never really free
Don't the sun look angry at me

I was sitting in the Hollywood Hawaiian Hotel
I was listening to the air conditioner hum
It went mmm, mmm, mmm…
........................... Look
away..........................................
(Look away down Gower Avenue, Look away....)

 
Of course what he sees as he drinks his margaritas (the angry sun, the trees that look like crucifixes) is a projection of what he feels, his brokenness, which leads to his realization that he’s locked into the prison of his addiction, that one is “never really free.”  If that isn’t brilliant enough, then the song becomes pure sublime when he hears the humming of the air conditioner and he transforms the mechanical hum to the melody, only now accentuated to sound like a heroic melody.  The ending of the song is one long coda, almost half the song, to that heroically accentuated melody.  It’s as if he’s saying, “I’m in this prison of myself, and I’m broken, but there is beauty here too.”

 
That is one of the most remarkable songs of any genre, let alone pop songs.  Rest in peace Mr. Zevon.  May you be in a better place, arranging songs for choirs of angels.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Matthew Monday: First Day of Soccer

Matthew started soccer on Saturday.  Boy did he have fun.  It was mostly instructional but they did have them play a five on five game.   It was funny watching them.  They had no idea really on how to play.

Here are a few pictures.




His socks kept falling down...lol.

 

 


His team got blue jerseys.




And he tried playing goaly for a while but gave in to the impulse to go chase the ball down the field and the opposing team kicked a goal into the empty net.  :)


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Personal Story: My Fainting Episode

I was away this past week on a business trip to Germany.  In my 28 years of being an engineer, this was only my second out of country business trip, and it turned out to be memorable, not for any work accomplishments but for an event on the plane while going over the Atlantic.


The flight was on Monday from Boston (a connection stop) to Franfurt, Germany, which was also a connection for my ultimate destination of Hamburg.  Now on the Saturday previous to the departure, I had donated blood, both platelets and whole blood.  On that Monday I had breakfast before leaving but skipped lunch and at the airport had a large bottle of water, and actually bought a second bottle and had half of that.  I had dinner on the plane—some chicken teriyaki dish—with three glasses of wine.  Actually two glasses were with dinner and one was pre-dinner.  They’re free on international flights, so what the heck.


I had been reading before the chicken dinner, and now settled back for the long flight.  I put on my headphones and listened to a recording of the rosary on my iPod.  I dozed off and not too long after I woke up feeling woozy, with my stomach nauseous.  I do get motion sickness and there had been bumpiness, not extensive, but some.  My stomach at first felt like it does when experiencing motion sickness, but after another minute it felt worse.  I suddenly felt like I might have to relieve myself.  Actually it felt like blood was rushing to my stomach.  So I got up, unhooked my headphones, and trying to prevent my ipod from sliding off the forward tray while holding down the book that was also on the tray, I took a step into the aisle. 


I don’t exactly know what happened after that.  Suddenly I found myself on the floor, people’s legs standing around me, a blanket over my chest, a commotion of noise, and hands everywhere thrusting at me.  One pair of hands had an oxygen mask and was trying to get it on my mouth and nose.  I guess other hands were trying to help her.  They were giving me directions, but for the life of me I don’t know what they were saying.  I’m pretty sure one was telling me to breath into the mask, but I imagine others were asking me if I were hurt, feeling pain, did I hit my head, are you having trouble breathing? 

 
I wasn’t seeing comprehensively.  I had large spots in front of my eyes.  I sat up and my head felt like it was empty, as if all the blood had drained out.  I must have asked what happened.  I took the oxygen mask and tried to breath.  My arms were sweaty.  People were saying how pale I was.  My sight was coming back together, as if my view was coagulating into comprehension.  Someone said I was getting my color back in my face.  I was breathing into the mask, but frankly I didn’t feel any oxygen coming out.  I was asked if I could get up and go to the back of the plane.  I said I just want to sit here.  Someone (and I presume the people talking to me were the stewardesses) said it would be more private for me.  And then I looked around and noticed all the people in their seats looking down on me.  An aisle in an airplane is not very wide and they were practically on top of me.  So I consented and had them help me up—again my brain felt woozy—and they walked me to the back, which was only about three or four rows, to a stewardess seat against the back wall, near the bathrooms.  There was an emergency door right by where the rows of seats ended, so that the corner was very roomy.

I don’t know if the rest is all that interesting.  They identified a doctor on the plane and he spent a good amount of time with me.  They had a wrist blood pressure machine which we had the hardest time getting to get good readings but once it did it registered something like 90 over 65.  It was low—most definitely.  The doctor did not think I had had a heart attack or a stroke.  I mentioned the blood donation and lack of eating and that I go to the gym regularly, and he thought I had dehydrated and mentioned some term with the word “vascular.”  We got to talking.  I didn’t mention all the water I drank, but I wonder if that could have washed out my potassium, which could I think paradoxically enhance the likelihood of dehydration.  Coincidentally he had been a doctor at one of the Staten Island hospitals at one point in his life.  My conversation was pretty coherent, so he felt comfortable that I had not had anything serious.  But he said I needed to take certain precautions and possibly see a doctor when we landed.

They had me keep the oxygen mask over my face, and one of the poor stewardesses (I later found out her name is Annkathrin) was still holding the tank.  I offered to take it from her and hold it myself.  She said not to be silly.  They gave me an aspirin as a precaution.  Aspirins in Germany are 500 mg, which are much larger than ours.  I got to talking to Annkathrin who told me I was only on the floor for seconds.  The people around me tried to help.  I felt very humbled.  I said everyone had been so kind.  The supervisory stewardess (her name was Eva) came by and said I finally had color in my face.  I said it was probably from embarrassment…lol.  Nothing like this has ever happened to me before.  I really felt embarrassed.  Annkathrin said not to be embarrassed.  This happens frequently on long flights.  Somehow I didn’t quite believe it but she insisted.  She said they could have a doctor on arrival for me, but I said I didn’t think I needed it any longer.  My blood pressure was returning to normal, and she said if I still felt well I wouldn’t need it.


Finally I returned to my seat.  Everyone seated nearby asked how I felt and if they could do anything for me.  They were all so nice, the woman with the child to my left, the family to my right, the big strong young man in front.  I sat there and had several epiphanies.  First epiphany, I felt my mortality and how quickly and overwhelming death could be.  I’ve always imagined that under most circumstances one could ask for our Lord’s forgiveness at the moment of death.  I don’t think that’s typically possible.  I had no awareness I even collapsed to the floor.  “My God, my God,” I muttered, echoing the words of Christ on the cross, “why have you forsaken me?”
 
But then I had a second epiphany.  I was not forsaken.  There were people all around me, helping me, their hands in care for me.  I thought of St. Catherine of Siena, who among other things took care of the ill.  She was a physical saint, a saint of touch.  Those who have read this blog know how I’ve adopted her as my personal saint ever since I read her biography earlier this year.  My pastor at church frequently homilies on how moments such as I went through are moments of encounters with Christ.  All those hands thrust forward for my care were hands of Christ.  Christ is there in all our compassion.
 

I asked Annkathrin for the names of those who helped me, so I can send a note of praise to their employer.  She brought over another young lady, the young lady who I think was trying to get the oxygen mask on to my face while I was collapsed.  She wrote her name down, Catharina.  And then right there was my third epiphany.  Both young ladies who helped me were named Catherine in some form.  St. Catherine had been there praying for me, and sent me two angels.  My mouth dropped.  God bless them. 


I didn’t need a doctor when we landed in Frankfurt, and so I went on with my connection, and the rest of the business trip.  I had no further issues.  The one free afternoon I had I walked around Hamburg for over four hours, and must have tallied over ten miles.  I’m pretty sure my heart is sound, but I will get a thorough exam as soon as I can.


When I got home I wrote Lufthansa a note commending the two stewardesses and their supervisor, Eva.  May the Lord bless them and keep them, and may He shine His face upon them.