Take flight

bahamas

Author’s Note: This is the final chapter of a story previously published. If you would like to read the first part, please visit Sizzle.

It was the jarring memory from eleven years in the past that put Bryan on edge. It involved his sister and her disappearance in a single engine plane while en route to the Bahamas. The wreckage was never located, if there was any in the first place. There was no closure to a tormenting time in Bryan’s life. He was left with unanswered questions and a debilitating apprehension that required any separation of his feet from the earth below him.

“I appreciate the offer, but no thanks,” replied Bryan. He felt guilty turning down the opportunity to extend their relationship beyond the final fifteen minutes of his last cooking class, but this was too far out of his comfort zone. Way too far. Bryan didn’t know, however, that Ted was not only outgoing and personable, he was also quite persuasive.

“C’mon dude, it’d be a blast. Listen, you come with me and I’ll dress up to the nines to attend one of your fancy jazz concerts,” retorted Ted.

Bryan, feeling fidgety even allowing himself to consider the offer, attempted to voice his concern, “It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just …”

Ted sensed the body language being communicated by Bryan. He didn’t allow the silence to hang in the air for too long, “You scared?” he asked. Although it wasn’t part of his normal character, Ted didn’t look at Bryan as he said it so as not to appear too condescending.

“Yes … and no, I don’t know,” replied Bryan, who was confused himself by the response.

“Flip the shrimp, man, they’re gonna burn,” admonished Ted. Bryan had gotten so caught up in his emotions and repressed memories that he lost track of the prawns beginning to char in the skillet for the second time.

Returning to the methodical routine of stirring, listening to the sizzling oscillate in volume as the shrimp were moved from one side of the skillet to the other, Bryan suddenly felt an inviting calmness wash over him. He shared exactly why he rejected Ted’s offer, right down to the very last painful detail. It wasn’t something that Bryan ever felt comfortable doing, spilling his guts, but it felt good, and therapeutic.

Who knows whether it was Ted’s decision to be a sounding board in what he would usually consider an uncomfortable baring of the soul, or if it was a few teaspoons of compassion that he had intuitively added to the recipe of his own soul. Whatever it was, Ted’s compelling argument aimed at Bryan kicked into high gear.

“Hey, it’s safer than driving. There are less planes in the air than there are cars on a highway. And you can be sure as hell that there are plenty of drivers on the road that shouldn’t be behind the wheel of a car. Every pilot has to go through a flight review every two years.”

Sensing that Bryan was getting closer to favorable reception of his argument, but not quite there yet, he continued on, playing to the intellectual mind of his cooking partner, “These planes are awesome gliders. They have a five to one glide ratio. That means if we’re five thousand feet in the air and we lose the engine – highly unlikely mind you – we have a twenty five mile radius to find a place to put her down safely – in a field, on the beach, even on a back road. Hey, I’m that good, you know it,” he said with a devilish grin.

tux-with-bow-tieBryan was still quiet, but Ted could see he was on the cusp of winning over his friend’s allegiance. So, he went for the knockout punch. “Hey, you do this, and I’ll even wear a bow tie to the jazz concert.”

The smile that spread across Bryan’s face sealed the deal. It didn’t mean it was going to be easy, but Bryan could not pass up the opportunity to see Ted in a bow tie. He’d have his camera at the ready to preserve that moment, for sure.

It was a crisp, fall Saturday morning, uncharacteristic for this time of year in Florida. Ted was going through his pre-flight calculations when Bryan came through the hangar door. The look on Bryan’s face was as if he had just come face to face with a banshee preying on his soul to strip him of his very existence. He knew it was unreasonable, but he couldn’t help how he felt.

As Ted completed the walk-around of his aircraft, he explained everything that he was doing to assuage the fear radiating from Bryan’s skin – checking the oil and fuel level, confirming the operation of flaps, ailerons, and elevators, insuring proper inflation in the landing gear tires. Ted was extra vigilant to be sure that he was following every protocol, and to give Bryan time to warm up to what was coming next.

As Ted pushed the window open and yelled, “Clear prop!”, he started the engine and contacted the tower for clearance. He glanced over at Bryan and spoke to him through the headsets on their heads, “Hey, lighten up bro. Remember, this is supposed to be fun.” Bryan feigned a smile.

As they sat perched at the end of a runway, like a bird resting on a twig, they awaited clearance for takeoff. “November four-niner-one foxtrot tango, you are cleared for takeoff, departure to the south approved,” came the announcement from the tower controller.

“Here we go,” said Ted as he advanced the throttle slowly to full power. Everything began to escalate in intensity – the noise, the vibration, the heartbeat. Bryan’s entire body was tensing up in protest, holding on to the door handle, half thinking he could still open it and jump out without too much injury.

And then … his feet were no longer connected to the earth below him. The noise level diminished, the vibration levels receded, and it felt as if he was being carried gently into the heavens above him, ever so closer to his sister. Despite the reduced levels of noise and vibration, Bryan’s heartbeat did not follow suit.

It didn’t remain elevated out of fear. Rather, the feelings tugging at his heart transformed from ones of fear to ones of awe and inspiration. The landscape unfolding before him left Bryan breathless. The Atlantic Ocean looked like a sheet of glass, the rising sun just peeking over the tips of the cumulus clouds sitting on the horizon.

Inexplicably and uncontrollably, one word came from Bryan’s lips through the headset, “Wow.”

Ted peeked over and saw the more relaxed look on his passenger’s face, “Yeah, I think that’s what everyone says the first time they experience this. Let me tell you, it’s rather addictive, in a good way of course.”

sunrise-atlantic-oceanWe’re born alone, we live alone, and we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone. ~ Orson Welles

This was no illusion. Bryan was sure of it. And even if it was some deceptive imagery from an alternate universe, even if none of this was really real, he couldn’t possibly deny the presence of the emotions coursing through his veins. Yep, this was good enough for him. Well, almost good enough. He still couldn’t wait to see Ted in a bow tie. There was no way he was going to let him wriggle out of that one. It was another memory – in what appeared to be an unlikely friendship – that would make his life one worth remembering, alone or not.

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Sizzle

skillet-shrimpThe subconscious mind works to protect us from perceived dangers, even when those beliefs are illusory. The challenge is to look beyond the veil of misconception and see the situation for what it is – an opportunity – for personal growth, and connection to kindred spirits.

The scent of fresh shrimp, just pulled off the local fishing boat, filled the air as the sizzle of several skillets was interrupted by a voice from the front of the room.

“Okay, everyone, now we add the garlic, two teaspoons precisely. And prepare to be delighted by the masterpiece that evolves. Let it dance through the air and tiptoe along the edge of your sensory perception. Court it as you would a young lady from across the ballroom. Welcome it slowly, but surely into your presence. Admire its beauty and treat it with a degree of reverence.”

The cooking instructor was a bit over the top for Bryan’s taste, but he was pretty sure that the taste of the shrimp scampi he and his partner were concocting would more than make up for it. Bryan found himself here as a result of good luck. He’d always been interested in consuming fine food, but he had never really perfected the art of creating it. The free cooking class that he had won as a part of his company’s holiday luncheon party carried him to his present position over the sizzling skillet – this was their tenth and final lesson.

His cooking partner, for they always worked in pairs, was Ted. One was responsible for ingredient prep, the other for managing the actual cooking process. If it were the goal of this instructor to pair two polar opposites together, his objective had been attained. Bryan was quiet, reserved, introspective, and unassuming. Ted was all that negated – boisterous, bold, extroverted, and somewhat pretentious.

While Bryan kept his thoughts to himself on the commentary of the instructor, Ted could not restrain himself.

“What a pile of crap. You know, if he put as much thought into his cooking as he did with his words, his scampi might actually come close to competing with mine.”

He spoke just loud enough for the redhead at the next cooking station to hear him. He smiled and threw her a flirting glance. It wasn’t Bryan’s modus operandi, but for some reason he found himself enjoying the hour each week he spent with Ted and his complimentary personality. Bryan was quiet, but it didn’t mean that he didn’t have a sense of humor, or sarcasm.

Being their final lesson, Bryan would most likely find himself slipping back into his normal routine of comforting activities – curling up in the corner of the bookstore with a book of poetry, listening to classical jazz on his headphones at work, completing the most difficult Sudoku puzzles he could get his hands on, and of course, cooking a few gourmet meals along the way.

Ted would do the same with his own set of diametrically opposed activities, but he wouldn’t be doing it alone if he had anything to say about it. His extroverted personality and appreciation for the unlikely camaraderie formed between he and his cooking partner brought about a suggestion – one that would challenge Bryan’s moxie to embrace the uncomfortable and unexpected.

“Hey, bro, you know this is the last lesson, right?” inquired Ted without looking up from the cutting board.

Well, of course both Bryan and Ted knew. Their instructor had been almost bawling over how far he thought they had all come. He continued to express, ad nauseam, how he was so proud to be sending new budding chefs out into the world, like a parent preparing his son or daughter for everything the world had to offer them. Yeah, he was just a wee bit overblown in his assessment of the situation.

“Yeah, it’s been fun. I might actually eat more than frozen pizzas and canned ravioli now. I might even need to kick Chef Boyardee out of the house to make room for my new culinary offerings.” Bryan tried his best to appear witty. He was getting better, being around Ted, but it still didn’t quite come off as planned.

piper-cherokeeFeigning a grin, Ted continued, “You know, I’m a private pilot. I just bought my own plane, a low wing Piper. It’d be cool if we could take a flight together, maybe to a small airfield down south. There’s a good restaurant just off the runway. I hear they got shrimp scampi on the menu. We can measure it up against our rendition.”

Ted elbowed Bryan in a relaxed manner, allowing just a bit of his flamboyant and pretentious personality to shine through. Bryan noticed none of it, however, because he was suddenly consumed with fear. He hadn’t been in an airplane for years. He had relegated all travel activity to car, bus, or train. He even once took a cruise to the Caribbean in order to meet up with friends who flew there. Herculean levels of mental strength and fortitude would be required to surmount this imposing hurdle. Caught in a tug of war between friendship and fear, the shrimp in the skillet before Bryan began to char, along with his sense of courage.

Food for thought

Disney and Pixar?s RATATOUILLE movie image

Originating from the Disney movie Ratatouille, this image has captivated my entire being lately. Maybe it’s the use of the soft and inviting pastel colors. Maybe it’s the wonder of the Paris skyline. Maybe it’s because we all sometimes feel like a mouse in a human world, misconstrued, struggling to keep from being stomped upon. The smile on Remy’s face, however, exudes hope and promise as he gazes upon the Eiffel Tower and Gasteau’s restaurant in the foreground. In the end, this is what ultimately captures my attention. Hope. Hope for inspiration, happiness, passion, and love.

As human beings, we are motivated by our unmet needs. If someone were to extract all the oxygen from your surroundings, what motivates you? Air, only air. Forget about any other circumstance that may have previously occupied your attention. Without oxygen pouring into your lungs, all these concerns become moot.

Each of us has most likely felt this motivation at some point in our lives. Remember a time when breakfast and lunch slipped by the wayside. Long before dinner, all that consumed your every thought was food. Sustenance. It becomes difficult to focus on anything else until that need is met. If only we had just one unmet need to manage. Life would be so much simpler. When we are juggling multiple unmet needs in mid-air, how do we keep them all from crashing down around us? The answer is balance.

Good food is like music you can taste, color you can smell. There is excellence all around you. You need only to be aware to stop and savor it. ~ Gasteau

I thoroughly enjoy cooking. It is one of the most intriguing creative endeavors. Take raw materials provided by nature and transform them into an edible work of art. I don’t necessarily understand the proper way to mince, dice, or julienne. I still manage to prepare palatable creations. Cooking is a completely immersive experience for me. Able to use all five of your senses at the same time, it can sometimes foster an almost zen-like state of mind.

Soon after graduating from college, I decided that I was going to challenge my cooking skills with a new recipe. With the directions calling for three cloves of garlic, I confidently navigated my way through the local grocery store to gather all the necessary ingredients, along with a bottle of chardonnay.

Most people enjoy a glass of wine with their meal. I enjoy that same glass of wine while preparing the meal. There is something curiously pleasing about sautéing garlic and onions while sipping a glass of wine. The sizzle of the skillet, the smell emanating from the ingredients, the long buttery finish of a fine chardonnay. It’s a small piece of heaven.

Upon completion of this new recipe, I knew that something was askew. There was certainly no doubt about the presence of garlic in my apartment. In my naïve youth, I assumed that a clove of garlic was the whole head. The recipe that called for three cloves of garlic received about eighteen cloves instead. The pizza that I ended up ordering out that night was quite tasty 😉

The key message in this story is balance. All recipes call for prescribed amounts of each ingredient. Too much or too little can create, ahem, undesired results. The same is true in the many facets of our life.

I am very good at pouring myself into a new venture with an over the top, nothing else matters, 110% of my energy mentality. At the expense of everything else in my life. Let me tell you, it catches up with you. Every single time. For a short period of time, you ride the adrenaline high of pursuing something with laser focus. You achieve numerous milestones that have been set forth for yourself. In the meantime, you deplete the emotional bank account in all the other areas of your life. Eventually, that “thing” that started out as alluring and exciting becomes drab and stale like a piece of crusty bread. And all the other roles in your life have been compromised in the process. Balance is key.

soup-ratatouilleFirst-class chefs use recipes. However, instead of following them to a tee, they use them as guidelines. Constantly tweaking the amount of each ingredient, they combine the knowledge of suggested amounts with instinctive feel to hone in on a balance that creates the ultimate culinary delight.

You must be imaginative, strong-hearted. You must try things that may not work, and you must not let anyone define your limits because of where you come from. Your only limit is your soul. ~Gasteau

So it is with our own lives. We need to go shopping and selectively choose the ingredients that personify our recipe for life. More importantly, we need to balance those ingredients so that our creation is not only palatable, but delicious beyond compare. Something we are proud to serve for all who request a reservation in our restaurant of life. Bon appétit.

Be perfectly imperfect

Perfection_within_Imperfection_by_meitantei

I think that it’s safe to say we all want to excel in whatever we do. In other words, we all strive for perfection even when we know it may be technically unattainable. Striving for perfection can be a positive force since it allows us to set stretch goals and push ourselves to higher levels of achievement in whatever we pursue. It can also be a negative force when it keeps us from completing or even beginning a task.

Believe me, I can relate to the latter negative effects. I am a self-proclaimed perfectionist. So much so that I will probably tweak this post countless times before I actually hit the publish button. My perfectionist tendencies, at times, have proven beneficial to both my personal and professional life. But, there are so many other times that they have done the opposite. Projects too many to number remain unfinished strewn around the house. Creative ideas are left to simmer on the back-burner of my mind not yet started because I know they probably won’t come off “perfectly”.

How many of us have made resolutions on New Year’s Day? How many of us have held true to those resolutions for the entire calendar year? Or even the first month? Sometimes resolutions fail due to a lack of commitment, but more often than not my resolutions fall by the wayside because my desire for perfection gets in the way. This is certainly no way to live your life passionately.

The point is that each of us needs to realize just how much we can accomplish by simply doing our best. We can create so many amazing things while being imperfect. I know better than anyone that saying something like this and acting in accordance with it are two completely different animals. I am constantly working on taming my perfectionist mind so that second animal is more manageable. How do I do this? Funny you should ask …

I have realized that certain hobbies have allowed me to strive for perfection and cultivate excellence without obsessing over it.

preparing foodI love to cook. Hold on, don’t change the channel yet. I know that a large number of you may consider boiling water for pasta either a challenge or a chore, maybe both. Even if you don’t know the difference between julienne and minced, you can still be the prized chef of your kitchen. No one can deny that we need food to survive. If we need to eat, why not enjoy preparing the food that we need? It doesn’t have to be a gourmet meal. Maybe you have a recipe in the family that you’ve always wanted to try or maybe you have a favorite dish that you’ve always wanted to see if you could improve. Hey, what’s the worst that can happen? You can always order out (been there, done that). You know what one of the coolest things about cooking is … it is one of the few activities that I can think of where you get to use all five of your senses. It provides a very visceral experience and it’s also a perfect opportunity to try a new chardonnay with your next meal.

But what does this have to do with alleviating obsessive perfectionism? Perfectionists tend to want to tweak things when they are finished. They want to look at them from every different angle and find the most minute detail that can be altered to make it that much better or to meet their expectations. When you finish cooking a meal, all you want to do is eat. It is an elemental need. And once you have eaten, it’s pretty difficult to tweak your creation 🙂 But, you can always try something new the next time.

The bottom line is that we all need to make an imperfect commitment. We can all be perfectly imperfect. We won’t always stick to our resolutions, desires, or promises. But, if we keep putting one foot in front of the other and enjoy the journey along the way, we are going to create some great “things”. More importantly, however, we are going to create some even greater experiences which is really what makes our lives meaningful.

Always remember, life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderfull.