Monthly Archives: December 2009

My Homeland Security

After handing the gate agent our boarding passes at LAX, Mike and I headed down the little gangway for the plane.  There were still 50 people ahead of us, so we had to wait in the tunnel until the line moved along.  We were small talking, the kind of talk when you know everyone around you is listening to your every word.  All of a sudden, the gangway jolted.

Jolting is not a preferred feeling when boarding an aircraft, particularly when it’s a mere 48 hours after a near-major jolting over the Atlantic.

We gave each other a worried look, and then looked at the other passengers who were just as bewildered as we were.  One midde-aged Chinese-American woman turned around to face us.

“Did you feel that?” she asked, somewhat panicked.  “I felt that!  I saw the plane move too!”

“Yes, what was that?  Why did this tunnel just move?” I asked in reply.  “Like we really need this sort of alarm after the scare on Friday.”

Apparently I thought it would be smart to remind everyone of the danger we were surely encountering.  I’m sensitive like that.

Neither Mike nor I gave much thought to flying despite the thwarted Christmas day terrorist attack.  We both have a very practical, somewhat unspoken agreement that we won’t live in fear of the things we can’t control.  Do I have control over the odds that I will board the same plane as a terrorist?  No;  I am too busy controlling the hyper-increased security check to make sure none of my orafices are searched.

It was all the more surprising then that the lady in front of us told us she DID have control over the terrorists.

She replied to my statement, “They’re not taking ME down.  We fight back,” she said assuredly.  “If there is a terrorist on this plane there is no way he would get away with his plans.”

Suddenly I felt a surge of love for this woman, this small person who was in no way small, who represented the collective anger and strength the US has endured the last eight years.  Here she was, knowing in all certainty that no person hell-bent on hurting her would ever succeed in doing so.  She was ready to give her life to prove a point.  She would go down fighting.

Her “FEAR NOT!” stance didn’t look anything like our “fear not” stance.  We choose to assume that what will happen will happen, and we’ll deal with it as it comes.  This lady has a battle plan laid out, practically daring a radical to be assigned to the seat next to her so she can show him what’s what.  That is courage.

This lady is one reason why I board planes without trepidation.  I know there are hundreds of thousands of people like her, people who would never sit in fear while an extremist lights a fuse in front of them.  Just last Friday passengers saw smoke and pounced on the offender before any harm could occur.  Why?  They’re angry.  They refused to be treated like sheep hunted by wolves.

Me?  I’d like to believe that I would leap from my seat and attack a terrorist with whatever I could get my hands on, and if nothing, then just my bare hands.  But when I’m honest, when I really picture a large man yelling at me in a foreign language with explosives in his hands, I hesistate.  I fear.  I see a more accurate picture of pulling myself under a seat so I can just pray or escape being shot.

And that’s not a pretty picture.

After all, since I know my soul lives eternally, why do I fear death?  I considered this for some time, and realized that it’s not death that I fear.  It’s much more that I love my life.  I love my husband and family, and I would hate to see this rich adventure come to an end so soon.

I never learned where the jolting came from, and the flight proceeded smoothly.  I was able to obsess over my glossy People magazine without worrying about my safety, and that’s exactly how every flight should be.  But unlike every other flight I’ve taken, this one reminded me of my God-given right to demonstrate courage.  Thankfully, I didn’t have to; we made it home safely.  But that initial shake-up did serve a purpose — it jolted me awake.


Filed under One WORD (Current Events)

Etiquette for Awkward Situations — Vol 3: On a Plane

Today I board a flight to LA toting both my carry-on luggage and hopefully, my best behavior.  I always brace for the impact of encountering airline passengers; when people are treated like cattle, they can hardly be blamed for reacting like baboons.  Here, rules of engagement for the most ruthless form of travel.

Awkward Situation: Despite the airline calling for people to board by seat rows, 150 people are clustered around the gate, jockeying to get to the front.  You seem only to have two options:  shove your body through the masses like a teenager at a Jonas Brothers concert, or literally be the last person to board (forfeiting your access to overhead bin real estate).

Solution: Follow traditional traffic rules.  My brother-in-law, Phil, (who will be traveling with us tonight) works at Swerve, a driving instruction company.  He says most people on the road should already know the common-courtesy rule of “Each one lets one.”  The same applies here.  As you move like so much human sand through the hour glass, let one person go in front of you and then someone else lets you in.  We hope.

Awkward Situation:
You are finally seated and prepared for takeoff, when the person next to you reveals the undeniable fact that they are a Chatty Cathy.  Your eyes glaze over at the prospect of speaking for two hours with a total stranger whom you will never see again in your life.

Solution: Engage in minimal small talk until takeoff, wherein you pull a book from your bag and show it to the Cathy, saying kindly, “Have you heard of this author?  She’s supposed to be fantastic.  I’ll let you know how it is!”  And then promptly open it.

Beverage Cart
Awkward Situation: It’s your first official day of “Christmas break” and you and your friends are eager for a little yule-tide cheer — in the form of a beer.  Or wine.  Or cocktail.

Solution: Plane rides are not the time to party-hardy.  When you’re stuck in a stationary position and can’t even converse with more than the two people next to you, you’re not in a place to have too good of a time.  Just have one drink and pay with cash.  Order quietly so you’re not obnoxious.  Don’t ask twenty questions to see what brands they carry — check ahead of time by looking in the airline guide in the pocket in front of you.  Then raise a glass and cheers to a safe flight.

Switching Seats
Awkward Situation: The person next to you asks if you would please switch seats with their spouse so they can sit together — but said spouse is 15 rows behind you and in a middle seat.

Solution: If you can swing it for a short flight, consider it your good deed of the week and say you’d be happy to help.  If you are already sitting with your own spouse, kindly explain that you understand their situation but you would like to stay with your traveling companion.  Also, even if you aren’t traveling with someone, you’re under no obligation to move seats.

Bathroom Break
Awkward Situation: You’re practically bursting at the seams after four diet Sprites and two hours of resisting the urge to visit the dreaded airline bath-closet (how could we call that a room with a straight face?).  But there are three people already clustered around the stewardess area waiting their turn.

Solution: It depends on your seat.  If you’re middle or window, get up as soon as possible to expand the amount of time between disruptions of your seat mates.  If you’re aisle, wait until there is only one person or no line at all before hopping up.  Also, keep in mind that the people in the unfortunate seating of the last few rows of the airplane shouldn’t have to stare at your backside that hovers directly in their faces as you wait for the bath-closet.

Warm thanks to those of you who sent in great etiquette conundrums.  For those of you who have yet to inquire, feel free to ask about your awkward situation at


Filed under Good WORD (Etiquette)

Mas! Mas!

If I were a cheerleader, I’d cheer for Christmas.

Christmas has always been huge in my family — tons of decorations, celebrations, feasts, presents and Christmas Eve church services.  This year is the first Christmas I will spend apart from my family, and we’re a little sad about it.  We know it will be hard to be apart, but we’ll see each other several times before that day.

I’m using this time to examine my thoughts about Christmas, since Mike’s family’s traditions are very different from mine.  I’ve learned a lot about the history of Christmas through them and it’s given me much to consider.  I’ve learned that  Christmas shouldn’t have anything to do with Jesus or his birth, based on the fact that in the Bible neither Jesus nor anyone else says that we should remember His birthday (conversely, we are told to remember his death and resurrection) and in fact, we don’t even know His real birth date.

We can love and honor Christ apart from anything to do with popular holidays.  Rather than try to focus Christmas on Christ, they’ve explained, we should accept that the two have nothing in common and just celebrate it for what it is — good cheer, festivity, presents, family.  In essence, let’s take the Christ out of Christmas and let’s just have…mas.  In Spanish, that would be MORE.

And I’m always all for more.

In fact, I think I’m well on my way to more.  This December has already been decorated with several events that are indeed mas but have absolutely nothing to do with Christ.  Years ago (even last year) I would have felt a twinge of guilt for celebrating without focusing completely on Jesus, but now?  Bring on the mindless merriment!

Christmas Tree: To start our season, we got a tree.  Yes, it’s alive, and yes, it’s the same height as me:  five feet five inches.  We love our tree because it makes our home cozy and cheerful, it holds meaningful symbols (baby ornaments, second grade pictures of Mike, gifts from friends), and it delays us having to buy a new chair to fill the space it occupies.  (If you look closely, you can see a cross ornament…so I guess I haven’t figured this out quite yet.)

After all, Christmas trees were virtually forbidden by our colonial leaders in 1659, when a law was enacted that made any “heathen traditions” such as Christmas carols, decorations and trees a penal offense involving a fine.  We Rephs enjoy setting up our tree without paying a fine.

White Christmas: The same night that we got our tree, we attended “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” musical at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theater.  Two other couples invited us to dress up and go out on the town, and we thought nothing could be more Christmasy than the stage version of the Bing Crosby movie (which I had only seen once and Mike had never seen).  It was uncomplicated, plump, shiny and almost too cheesy to bear — and that was entirely the point.  “May your days be merry and bright” indeed!

Tacky Themed Dress-Up Party: Every year we are invited to a number of parties that require an ugly sweater, santa hat, or this year, 80’s ski gear.  The only thing 80’s ski gear and Christmas have in common is snow, I suppose, but we went with it.  The results speak for themselves.

Cirque de la Symphonie: Certainly the highlight of the Christmas season so far was attending the mind-boggling circus acts performed in front of a full orchestra playing classic Christmas favorites.  Mike took me and my sisters to Benaroya Hall and we all gasped our way through this stellar performance.  Previous to this evening none of us had seen a man in a handstand on another man’s HEAD with only ONE HAND.

The champagne at intermission didn’t hurt, either.

White Elephant Gift Exchange Parties: Two of these are on the calendar this year, one of which happened at my workplace — I arrived with a bathrobe and departed with two bags of candy.  Lame.  And what could be less Christ and more mas than giving gifts that are utterly random?  Myrrh and gold are not random; those gifts were intentional, I assure you.

I totally respect those who see Christmas as a holy holiday, because I do too, to some degree.  After 25 years it’s virtually an innate response.  But I love examining why we do what we do, and seeing if we can do it differently and still be honorable.

After all, when it comes to Christmas carols, for every “…the glories of His righteousness, and wonders of His love, and wonders of His love,” there are just as many “…oh bring us a figgy pudding, oh bring us a figgy pudding, and a cup of good cheer.”

As for me?  This Christmas I’ll ponder the wonders of His love — while sipping a cup of good cheer.


Filed under UpWORD (Beauty)