Baguettes Onboard

I’m on a plane. I’m going overseas for the first time in my life. I’m flying Air France, and the woman across the aisle is eating a baguette with the pace of a sloth. As she watches her movie, eyes fixated on the tiny screen, she slowly breaks off another flaky bite. Gently, she places it in her mouth. Her jaw gradually breaks down every crumb with care and concern, as if she doesn’t want to disturb the bread before it meets an untimely end, as if every bite is an apology.

And just like this French woman with her movie, I’m transfixed. This woman has taken easily 20 minutes to consume one baguette — the same amount of time it’s taken me to inhale my whole meal. I don’t even remember what I ate. But I remember that woman, and I remember that baguette and how slow and sultry she consumed every bite.

That moment happened over a decade ago, and it’s still so vivid in my mind. The woman took time and attention to enjoy every second. She enjoyed every bite. She enjoyed every scene. She was enjoying and experiencing and living.

Not me, and I don’t think most people either.

Make it through the work day. Make it through the week. Make it through the semester. Make it through this life that apparently we all hate and are just trying to survive.

Our culture, since we were terribly young, has taught us to survive rather than learn, enjoy, experience.

“Here’s this information. Absorb it as fast as you can. We have a test at the end of the week.” Our goal has become surviving the test, not the knowledge it’s meant to measure.

“Here’s the syllabus for this semester’s course. You’ll have one midterm and one final exam. Here’s a breakdown of each grade, so you can plan how to pass (aka survive) this class.” Our goal has become a decent GPA so we can one day graduate rather than glean from our professors.

“Here’s this week’s list of tasks. I need them done by the end of the week, or you’re not making quota, and you’ll be written up.” Our goal has become surviving the week, so we can keep the job we hate, rather than doing a job we appreciate, knowing our work matters.

Then the weekend comes, and we get blitzed, watch Netflix, and get as many errands done before Monday comes.

Repeat.

We have been conditioned to survive. Not live. Not experience. Not savor. Especially when hard emotions, problems, relationships, conflict, etc. confront us. We want it over as quickly as possible, praying we’ll survive, instead of feeling every second like that woman felt every second of that movie, like every bite of bread, tasting every flavor, even the bitter parts. We pick up speed while numbing ourselves, hoping for the current moment to be over rather than experiencing it with eyes wide open, senses tingling, tongue dripping with saliva in anticipation.

We don’t salivate for life. We brace for it.

And when life seems tolerable enough or forces us to take a breath of wonder, we poke our heads up from the sand and ask, “Where did my life go?”

It’s been passing behind your closed eyes and clenched fists and braced body. It was right here, all along.

Here’s the problem with surviving life — none of us survive. In spite of all our spinning and running, clamoring and clawing, we all come to the same destination: death. And humans pick up speed to arrive. We pick up speed to make the long road trip end, conclude the painful conversation, get the test over with. We rush to arrive. But the arrival, the destination of life, is death. That’s the finish line for all of us. We literally can’t survive. It takes us all, regardless of how hard we run, how successful we are, how many toys we gobble up for ourselves.

Life can’t be about surviving because it’s literally impossible, and yet we spend every waking moment trying to. You can’t. I can’t. We can’t.

So if life is not about surviving or finishing, if life is no longer about the destination, it must be about the journey, and not just the parts we like.

Every waking second is whispering a lesson to be learned, a love to be experienced, a sunset to be seen, a conversation to be shaken by.

It’s about now. This second. Nothing else matters. Nothing else actually exists. And this is the moment that the Divine is found. God is not found in the arrival.

“I am the I am.” Not will be. Not has been. The Divine is experienced in this moment, in this second, and what is that Divinity whispering in the bowels of your being? Where is God calling you to be present? To show up?

“Where are you?” He calls from the storm as He called to Adam and Eve in the garden.

Step into the light. Bare your nakedness, your lack, your skin and sin, your holiness and holes, your shadow and gold. All of you is needed for this moment, and you are commanded to be present.

“Stand firm then with the belt of truth.” With the belt of the truth of who you are, every part.

But being present is genuinely hard. It takes bravery to truly show up. Just like our forefathers and mothers, we cover up, hiding the parts that embarrass us, numbing the parts that hurt us. But every nerve is needed — both the hair on our neck that makes us quiver with pleasure and the calloused fingers that remind us to pull away from the fire. It is needed, and if we don’t feel, we’ll miss the joy of the moment, we’ll burn in the blaze.

Life… was not meant to be survived in some numb stupor, it was meant to be experienced, to be felt, to be tasted; it was meant to teach and bewilder, to humiliate, to break us down and build us up; it was meant to take everything as it gives us everything, as we show up for the world in truth, ugly as it may be because life gives of itself when it’s both beautiful and boring, inspiring and crushing. Like life, you must show up in all that you are and give it all so that when we leave, we leave our essence behind. Don’t stuff yourself away in Pharaoh’s tomb — in your heart of hearts — collecting dust and decay as your horde yourself from the world; give yourself because that’s the only way you live on. By giving, we become eternal, and eternity comes to those with open hands, to those who embrace every moment because eternity is now.

“Stuff your eyes with wonder,” he said, “live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic that any dream made or paid for in factories. Ask no guarantees, ask for no security, there never was such an animal. And if there were, it would be related to the great sloth which hangs upside down in a tree all day every day, sleeping its life away. To hell with that,’ he said, ‘shake the tree and knock the great sloth down on his ass.” 

Fahrenheit 451