Ear Buds, I’m Sorry.

Ear buds headphone

About 10 days ago I walked into a small fitness center and was upset by the absence of human contact.  Everyone in the gym appeared hypnotized by whatever was speaking or singing to them as wires hung from their ears.  I rarely post on Facebook, but I started a thread that led to a near-disgust for those ear-things that have interrupted my personal perspective on a healthy society, a world where people converse, pay attention to each other, and keep connected with their immediate environment.  It was an all-out attack on those little plugs that pop into people’s ears to disconnect them from human connection.  I was almost flying the banner to ban the ear bud.

When I’m wrong, I admit it.  Right here, right now, I apologize to all headphones and ear buds and admit I was unfairly quick to criticize them.  On a flight home from Phoenix this week, I learned the error of my misdirected critique.

Before boarding I looked at my electronic boarding pass.

A39.  Not a bad number.

Any “A” boarding pass is likely to get an available aisle seat when you’re flying on Southwest. I was.

I walked onto the plane with the A’s 31 – 60, and sure enough, spied an aisle seat in Row 18.  Beautiful.  I sat down, tucked my laptop bag under the seat in front of me, and watched the line of people boarding the plane hoping the middle seat next to me remained open.

The lady with the horrible perfume thankfully passed me by, as did the man with the hacking cough and the very overweight woman who hit everyone with her giant purse as she worked her way toward the back.  They said it was going to be a full flight, but amazingly, nobody sat next to me.  I wasn’t the least bit offended.  An accounting student sat near the window, and after the preliminary niceties, she was locked in with her ear buds in her ears, her laptop in the seat pocket, and an empty seat between us.

I breathed a sigh of relief.

Then, just when I thought Lady Luck had shined upon me, they boarded.  The last two.  A man and woman in their 70’s.  Cute in a senior sort of way.  They’d obviously been together for a long time.  They had similar mannerisms and she barked rhetorical questions and follow-up orders at him as they shuffled toward the back.

“Marvin, did you remember to bring the sandwiches?  Don’t put them in the bin.  And keep my water pills in your pocket.”

Marvin appeared immune to her verbalizations.  He didn’t smile much, but he looked determined to put an end to this aisle-borne assault.

The flight attendant politely but firmly asked them to sit themselves down and buckle in.

“We can’t leave the gate until everyone’s seated.  There aren’t any seats together.  There’s a middle seat in Row 18 and another in Row 29.

Marvin and his wife looked at the seat next to me, sadly lowering their eyes.  My brain said, “c’mon Phil, do it,” and so I did.

“Here, you can have my seat so you can sit together.  I’ll take 29E.”  I grabbed my laptop bag stepped out of their way, and hoped a supermodel was sitting in seat 29 D or F.  Nope.  In 29 F was a guy with a hoodie.  I couldn’t even see his face.  On the aisle sat a girl with a nose ring, the kind that wraps around the outside of the nostril like a tiny misplaced hoop, and I believe her hair was . . . purple.  Well, maybe bluish.  It’s OK.  They were quiet, they didn’t smell, and they weren’t taking up too much room, so I strapped myself in to the middle seat.  It was only then that I heard the crying.  Not ear-splitting crying, but enough to know there was a baby in Row 30.

As we left the gate and moved toward the runway, the baby cried louder . . . and louder.  In fact, it was so loud it sounded like the waah waah sound was coming from two babies.  That’s when the woman across the aisle, in 29C, looked to the seat behind me and asked, “are they twins?”

Yikes!  Crying baby sounds in stereo . . . and this was a 4 ½ hour flight!  That wasn’t the bad part.  I can be forgiving of babies crying as I’ve been that guy with the crying baby . . . and I can empathize with the parents.  Their 4 ½ hours would certainly seem much longer than mine.  The bad part was, the Dad had a trick to make them stop crying (although when it “worked,” it was only a momentary pause). Yes, papa had a trick.  He barked like a dog.  Like a big dog.  Honestly.

“Woof, Woof.”

30 minutes into the flight I prayed for quiet.  I was becoming numb to the crying, but that infernal barking reminded me to be thankful that my neighbors do not have barking dogs.

Ah, there’s the word.  Thankful.  On this Thanksgiving Day I’m taking a far broader approach to the things I’m thankful for.

“Waaaah, waaah, ruff, ruff, woof, woof, grrrrrrrufffff.”  It went on and on and while I dug into my laptop bag and . . . my prayers were answered.  Ear buds!  I had them from my last Jet Blue flight.  For the rest of the flight I propped up my LG tablet, phones plugged firmly in, connected to Southwest Wifi, and watched People’s Court, Judge Judy, This Week in the NFL and Fox News.

So, I must admit, there is a time and place to shut out the world around you, to appreciate technology and its ability to transport you away from the sounds of the world when they become a bit too daunting.

I apologize ear buds.  I appreciate you.  I am thankful for you.

Am I so shallow I’m only thankful for tiny technological audio deliverers that fit inside my ear canal?  Of course not, but it’s a metaphor for the things we once tried to wish away, until we find the good.

My parents infernal nagging when I was a kid making bad decisions (some reallllly bad decisions) seemed so unnecessarily bothersome, and today I’m thankful for having grown up with the greatest parents in the world.

Mr. Contrada, my Junior High School principal, recently deceased, helped to create a life I live with Integrity as through his “lectures” he taught me the meaning of the word.  While I cringed at the thought of Contrada ripping my head off, as an adult I am thankful for the many hours I sat in his office (OK, I wasn’t the most well-behaved student from Grade 7 – 9 but my heart was in the right place).

My mistaken Parkinson’s diagnosis in 2007 seemed like a true horror, until I realize it send me on a journey where I not only discovered I didn’t have the wrongly-diagnosed disease, but the road I traveled upon, a road I never would have encountered, took me to a new position where I have yet a greater power to influence others and facilitate life-altering change.

My loss of virtually everything I owned due to mold contamination after Hurricane Wilma gave me a new perspective on those things that are really important, and while that chapter seemed like a tip toe through mayhem, it led me to a place of greater peace, a place where I’ve come to recognize the caring of those around me, the internal strength and life-force granted me by a force far greater than that that which I could ever summon alone, and an opportunity to renew, to rebuild, and to grow.

I am thankful for those accidental acquaintances turned mentors, for the amazing lessons I’ve learned from my now 11-year-old daughter, and for the opportunity to, together with my ex-wife, co-parent and shape a life that I believe will bring something amazing to this world.  I’m thankful for the extended family that my daughter receives love from, and for the great friends, teachers, and students who have enriched the process of bettering the lives of others.

I have a great deal to be thankful for, and I’m spending today in a true state of gratitude, but I did feel it important, as I direct my RAS toward pure appreciation of the blessings that surround us, to construct this apology to ear buds everywhere.

Ear buds, I appreciate you.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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