Monday, May 15, 2006


I am flying from Nashville to Los Angeles. Something I ate in Nashville is disagreeing with me over Dallas. The roar of the jets is masking the sound of this disagreement, and I have the overhead fan blasting full to diffuse its perfume, but one can only mask so much. My seatmate is asleep, and I image his dreams are a bit more dark than they might be had he been lucky enough to sit next to someone else.

The Sufi poet Rumi wrote that we humans are hollow reeds through which God plays His music. I always found that image compelling. Today I know it to be true. But why this particular sonata, Lord?

Think about it. Are we more than tubes through which air passes? Yesterday I sat next to someone whose lunch proved painfully sour to all around him when he belched in the meeting room we were using. So it doesn’t matter which end of the tube through which the air emerges, there is a good chance it will be foul.

Some of the air we move, of course, is shaped in ways we find more pleasant: words, musical notes, sighs of sorrow and relief, moans of pleasures, squeals of joy. Others are capable of cutting us like a knife: There is a baby in the back of the plane whose screams are of such a pitch that the ears of her neighbors will soon rupture and bleed. I thank God for my Bose noise canceling headphones.

I find it somewhat amusing that all of us tubes are hurling through air in a larger tube, itself propelled by sucking in and shooting out air. I am on my way to push some air at a few dozen tubes who have paid for the privileged of having me do so. I will be sure to leave them time to blow air in my direction as well, and I will do my best to honor their wind with a bit more of my own.

This may depress you. We long to be so much more than mere tubes, yet even Genesis has us as inert clay tubes until God blows air into us. The first air that emerges from Adam is used to name the animals, who are themselves tubes unable to name themselves. Maybe that is the point. We are the Tubes That Name, the tubes that make meaning by naming our fellow tubes. Not a bad designation, as designations go.

I know this may sound absurd; we long to be so much more. But at the moment I just cannot imagine what that more might be. So for now I will simply enjoy the moment when air emerges and the tube relaxes, and hope that most of what comes out of me does more for those I meet then it has for my seatmate whose nose, I pray, is twitching for some other reason.

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