And if every step taken is a step
well-lived but a foot
towards death, every pilgrimage a
circle, every flight-path
the tracing of a sphere: I will give
myself over and over.
from Totem Poem, by Luke Davies
Our little airport destination was covered in snow when we arrived and had some rounded mountains peaking above the haze. Sitting in a little bowl with a blanket of thin clouds/smog, the airport was hard to see until short final. We were impressed to be greeted by Airmen from the local American embassy, which doesn’t happen all that often these days. They actually brought us Cinnabon. That’s right, those gooey, frosting covered, delicious fat nuggets. Reportedly western chains had shown up in the last few years in this country and Cinnabon was one of the most recent. We happily accepted their unexpected gift. Then we waited for about two hours as a group of local soldiers milled about outside in preparation for their trip with us.
After the young conscripts line up and march onto the plane, we say good bye to another country and head for Germany… where we hope a real bed, a Kolsch beer, and a little rest awaits.
For a good hour and a half the young 1st lieutenant who was temporarily flying with us, my loadmaster Ray, and I talked about love, sin, hell, God and judgement. Yea, I know, that’s some serious stuff. But unlike the crap you see on TV these days, there was no yelling, no finger pointing, no damning each other and certainly no judgment passed. Imagine that!!
While our views/beliefs were often very different, each person considered the other’s point/belief and then considered how it might play into their personal experiences. I could write a book about the stuff we went into, but let’s just say that in the end the three of us came away with a better respect for each other’s positions and experiences, and I’d say each was more compassionate and tolerant from it.
The powerful concept that the judgement of others should be reserved solely for whoever your God/Spiritual being is, leaving each of us free to not carry that impossible burden, was mutually agreed upon. I’d call that a most satisfying conclusion.
Soon we were on the ground in Germany, swarmed by ground crews eager to whisk our passengers away, pump us full of tens of thousands of pounds of gas, suck out the doo-doo the 150 passengers left on the plane, and get us to a hotel for our quick overnight. I’ve never visited this part of Germany before and it didn’t take long to see the jewel of this city: Cologne Cathedral (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cologne_Cathedral). Its dark, gothic tower stood far above it’s surrounding skyline like a magnet attracting all eyes.
After checking into our hotel, a failed attempt to eat at a popular restaurant (we got the distinct impression we weren’t welcome and after 1.5hrs of patiently waiting for a table we bounced), and a subpar meal at an alternate restaurant, I was reminded to quit paying attention to all these little inconveniences and pause to appreciate the beauty around me. (That’s always around us.) I snapped this photo that dark and rainy night… and as always moments of beauty always do, it made such adventures worthwhile.
I walked, peered into dark cafe windows, watched bakers working their industrial ovens and stacking fresh croissants and loafs, smelled the butter and flour cooking, but couldn’t find an open bakery or cafe. What is going on? It’s a modern country and a big city, but everything is closed! Ohh… it’s Sunday. These folks think a little down-time from commerce and some real relaxation is a good idea? Nah… what’s this world coming to?! :)
As much as I was sad to not find a hot cup of coffee and a snack, I appreciated this concept of rest that is often lost in America. Thankfully the hotel restaurant gave me a free cup of joe and I spent the morning reading and waiting for the sun to rise. At 9am the first cafe opened and you can bet I was their first customer. Berliners (like a donut), a chocolate croissant, and a big latte satisfied my sweet tooth so I could return to the Middle East (where none of those exist, at least on base).
The rest of this adventure was tame. Each of us looked forward to returning to our 10’x10’ trailer room, the moldy bathrooms, and the blowing dust. Much like mountaineers returning to basecamp after days at high camps, we so easily overlook the poor conditions of the place we temporarily call “home”. Familiar items await: a place to sleep, fresh clothes, food, and a chance to breath out and relax. On any adventure you’ve got to be content with what you are given to work with, otherwise the opportunity to grow and make the most from the experience is lost.