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Close the Window

Sun over Pacific Ocean by Jaitra GillespieOut of the corner of my eye someone is waving to me. Out of corner of hearing, headphones on and music playing, someone is speaking to me.

“Excuse me…”

Seat 23A, right next to the window, United Airlines flight 870 from Sydney to San Francisco, several hours in and several thousand kilometres into journey, I’m in a world of my own high above this world, listening to music while the Pacific Ocean shines, sparkles below.

“Excuse me, can you close the window?”

The man in same aisle, opposite row has caught my attention, silenced music’s refrain, redirected reverie’s wander with gesticulating hands and insistent tone.

I am perfectly happy with the window open, pleasantly lost in clouds passing and distant ocean’s flow, but I am a veteran of these cross-Pacific, daytime into nighttime and back again flights, time and significant money spent practising meditation twice-yearly with Sri Chinmoy in New York for more than a decade, and closing the shutter at start of movies or onset of nighttime is as routine as jetlag upon landing. So, on the off-chance I have missed an official announcement, and the by-chance that I am by nature an accommodating person, I draw the blind as requested, close eyes to a peaceful world below to keep the peace up above.

In Japan, “wa” or harmony, is considered important above all. What may be seen as lack of individuality or assertiveness from a Western perspective, in Japan is a long-studied, always conscious effort to keep the orchestra of society playing in tune. To a Japanese perspective, one’s individuality should not impact upon, should not detract from the freedoms and needs of others, and when it does, one breaks not only a social contract, but what is seen as the very law and fabric of the universe. In feudal Japan, sticking your head out so could on a bad day be enough to lose it.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we are sorry to interrupt, but could you please close the window next to you as we are about to start the in-flight entertainment service.”

Barbara the stewardess, with timing more perfect than drawling Californian delivery, enforces with public announcement what moments before I delivered unenforced. I don’t need to be instructed how to keep harmony; as though raised Japanese, despite being born over 5000 miles away, it is a private announcement I must always follow.

Blinds closed, lights dimmed, attention dims, movies follow movies but are not followed as I drift in and out of the comfort of a sleep that is never comfortable. Check watch, read a book, stretch legs and shift weight, don’t check watch and read a book again, force my mind into passing time as cabin night—no stars above, few stars on B-grade screens—less than willingly passes into day. What should be a first resort is my last; at last I meditate the time away.

Someone is tapping on my shoulder…

Strangely, in the extreme lack of personal space that is modern coach travel—air, leg room and body heat all one and shared—it is still a shock to be deliberately touched by the person shoulder to shoulder, knee to knee with for over half a day, and my eyes jerk open as though woken straight from a dream.

“Someone wants you to close the window”, owner of arms and legs says.

“What, why?” …first words to mind and then mouth as I scramble to remove headphones, leave stillness of meditation, gain my bearings. The lady sitting next to me shrugs, points to the aisle beyond.

“Can you close the window please?”

The same man as before, four seats across but not nearly far enough away, is gesticulating, motioning with up and down gesture to once more close the blind I had opened, movies now watched and half-forgotten, just a short while before.

Something within me disagrees. Something about the man disagrees. I will not be complying or accommodating him this time.

Two hours into flight, point of departure’s night yet to be flown through and movies yet to start, sure I’ll close the window. Two hours to go, breakfast about to be served and movies closed, no way, not a chance.

“Why?” I retort, not merely a question but forceful, deliberate challenge. ‘I’m happy with it unclosed,’ my unspoken, implied justification, ’and who are you enforce your will on all of row 23?’ Trapped between open window and wide open pride, I will not be backing down.

“I can’t see the film!”

His face is turning red, and his voice, climbing above dull drone of aircraft engines, has reached a pitch approaching a whine.

You can tell a lot from a person the first time you see them—first impressions do not lie as the saying goes; first thought, best thought same adage by another name. This is what I trusted in challenging Mr 23E’s request—I followed my heart, acted upon what felt right at the time.

Woken from quiet reverie two times, face to indignant face a second time, with near blank mind and meditative calm, the part of my being that reacted so strongly was the right part, the trustworthy part: the plain, dependable truth of my heart.

‘His request is selfish and unreasonable,’ my heart spoke, ‘more about him getting his own way,’ its clear explanation. ‘He does this sort of thing all the time, do not give in to him’ the inner instruction, and in a flash, less than a single second, action right and response appropriate were decided, chosen without a moment for pause or consideration.

“I can see it just fine” I reply, calmly, strongly, a statement of truth, fact to take or leave rather than apology or excuse.

Trapped in his seat by more than buckle and belt, he squirms, searches to and fro, looks as if for Barbara the stewardess the come to his aid, but like his manners, she is nowhere to be seen.

Humpf!”, 23E mutters in disgust, muted, half-beneath his breath. He turns away, defeated, harmony not I the victor over his inconsiderate demand.

I have put a bully in his rightful place, and I have put harmony back in her place, visible like the through window open, strolling freely up and down the aisle.

Sri Chinmoy taught that in today’s world it is no longer appropriate to turn the other cheek when wronged, keep the peace at any cost at all. Rather we must illumine ignorance when we cross it, and put wrongs right where we can, not as in an eye for eye and tooth for tooth, but by defending ourselves, staying the hand of one who would give us a slap. In turning not our cheeks, we prevent another from doing wrong, and slowly, action by right action, make the world a better place.

So we have to be very careful when somebody does something wrong to us. It is not that we are threatening them. Far from it. Only we have to feel that by allowing him to do the same thing again, or indulge in the same wrong action, we are taking him away from his own divinity.

At each moment, just as we should always try not to do anything wrong ourselves, consciously or unconsciously, we should also not allow another person to do anything wrong. We know that our encouragement of his mistake is in no way serving as kind of compassion. No. If we encourage him to do the wrong thing again and again, then this is not compassion. This is our self-imposed weakness in the name of compassion.
Sri Chinmoy, Earth’s Cry Meets Heaven’s Smile, Part 3

16 Comments

  • pavitrata
    Posted November 3, 2009 11:24 am 0Likes

    Did you actively want the window open? Where you enjoying the ubercloud light? Was there a particularly stunning shade of delirious cobalt blue in the firmament? Were you in a reverie imagining cloud-walking? If any of the above or equivalent, good on ya, if not, stop being difficult and just shut the window already!

  • Jaitra
    Posted November 3, 2009 11:44 am 0Likes

    Yes all of the above, delightful cobalt blue and heavenly cirrus shades, with a warm wash of sunlight across my semi-entranced face.

    Heaven forbid though, me, difficult, or even slightly grumpy after 11hrs in the air? Impossible, or at least it is when I am telling the story…
    .-= Jaitra´s last blog ..Close the Window =-.

  • pavitrata
    Posted November 3, 2009 11:55 am 0Likes

    Thing is, I am usually that guy in 23E and the glaring bright light is driving me crazy. What about a compromise? Half-close the window. Do-able?

  • Jaitra
    Posted November 3, 2009 12:03 pm 0Likes

    I’d happily give up both my vegetarian meals, let alone close the window for one with even a dessert spoon of the grace and decency of yourself. In all honesty, it was more the manner of the man asking that made me uncharacteristically belligerent, not the request itself.

    Still, I should probably write about blossoming flowers and bouncy lambs sometime soon, lest I give the impression that, with each cup of coffee consumed, I’m fast aging into a grumpy old man!
    .-= Jaitra´s last blog ..Close the Window =-.

  • Alf
    Posted November 3, 2009 8:02 pm 0Likes

    Instant Karma’s gonna get you – if Jaitra don’t get you first!
    .-= Alf´s last blog ..Le nuove scarpe =-.

  • pavitrata
    Posted November 4, 2009 10:50 am 0Likes

    If you ever even contemplate writing about bouncy lambs and blossoming flowers, go and watch 20 episodes of Family Guy. If that doesn’t cure you, delete me from your address book, I don’t wanna know!

  • Jaitra
    Posted November 4, 2009 11:21 am 0Likes

    Alf, I’ve clearly missed my true calling as a school teacher or police officer. Though there’s nothing wrong with being a persnickety policeman I say, if you can carry it off like this!
    .-= Jaitra´s last blog ..Close the Window =-.

  • Jaitra
    Posted November 4, 2009 11:34 am 0Likes

    Pavitrata… well I’ve been overdosing on Gordon Ramsay recently, and the lambs in his Kitchen Nightmares certainly aren’t bouncing!

    Ever seen Little Gordon? No shrinking violets in this home kitchen…
    .-= Jaitra´s last blog ..Close the Window =-.

  • pavitrata
    Posted November 5, 2009 12:37 am 0Likes

    Interesting! However, seems like just your average UK kid to me! Most of them grow out of it, he never did.

  • Noivedya
    Posted November 5, 2009 9:32 am 0Likes

    After years of crossing the Pacific on United, I made two long return flights this year on different airlines – Virgin Airlines and Qantas. It’s hard to go back to the old, shared-screen flights after being on flights where everyone gets a personal screen and video on demand. My tradition of taking several books aboard a flight has also gone out the window (not literally), as I can spend the whole time watching movies, TV shows and docos. And of course, nobody bothers anyone, so its contribution to world peace cannot be underestimated.

    Luxury in coach class!

  • Jaitra
    Posted November 6, 2009 6:32 pm 0Likes

    You would think I would have learned my lesson by now—after all I have been complaining—and blogging—about my umbrage with United Airlines for years now: United We Sit. Then again, why disembark from such a productive plane of thought, goldmine of material…

  • Aloha7
    Posted November 23, 2009 12:10 pm 0Likes

    I am sure you guys have seen the YouTube video “United Breaks Guitars”(has had a couple of million+ hits). But if not, it is worth checking out. Forgive me for mentioning it as I cannot imagine that anyone who flies United has not seen it. Recently, United lost this same person’s luggage when he was flying from Canada to the states to give a talk on customer relations to airline personnel. If his song on this mishap is as good as the one when United broke his guitar, then I guess we have to thank United.

  • pavitrata
    Posted November 24, 2009 3:47 pm 0Likes

    Dave Carroll’s ‘United Breaks Guitars’ is a good song, you can hear it here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YGc4zOqozo

    and credit to him for writing/composing and putting the whole video together and letting United know that thanks to the internet there are now ways for the ‘little guy’ to get heard and have a major impact on public opinion.

    Personally, I prefer Tom Paxton’s altogether wittier ‘Thank-you Republic Airlines’ from his satirical 1985 album ‘One Million Lawyers and Other Disasters’. The song was written after Tom’s guitar was wrecked by United (yup, they’ve been trashing guitars for decades!). You can hear it here: (click the little player in the top right corner of the link page.)

    http://tinyurl.com/nq69yx

    Hearing it back then was enough to convince me to fly to New York with a different airline, who looked after my 12 string guitar very nicely.

  • pavitrata
    Posted November 24, 2009 4:15 pm 0Likes

    Re my last post…it was of course Republic that wrecked Tom’s guitar, and to be fair to Dave Carroll he did credit Tom with being the inspiration for the song.

  • Jaitra
    Posted November 24, 2009 4:18 pm 0Likes

    Timely comments both, Pavitrata and Aloha7, for I just booked a flight on United late last week, bountiful airpoints rather than choice or compelling service the reason, and was alarmed to receive today an itinerary update missing major legs of the flight.

    One panicked phone call later, I discovered that the “service” representative who booked my flight had neglected to process my “service” fee payment for one of the legs, and thus that part of the booking had lapsed.

    Of course, I wasn’t actually told this outright—rather I was put on hold for ten minutes while the Philippine Call Centre representative, no doubt running around in panicked circles herself, tried to rebook my itinerary with their partner airline—and it was only the vague mention of “re-booking” which led me to dig further into what was literally a complete disaster just averted!

    Had there not been an unexpected minor flight rescheduling today of the portion already booked, and thus an itinerary update via email, I probably would not have noticed that half my flight had failed to be booked, not until some time well after the seat had disappeared, for as it was I had secured the very last airpoints seat available in all of January!

    Ten variations of “Right, let me get this straight, you have re-booked my flight, because the service representative whom I dealt with on Friday obviously completely failed to do their job…” in partly calm, partly outraged tones, failed to get me anything approaching an apology, or even an admital of error.

    At the end of the day, I am thanking the Maker for my extremely good fortune in catching this almost certainly holiday ruining error before it could become one, but I am certainly not thanking United Airlines, even if the flight itself is technically “free”…
    .-= Jaitra´s last blog ..Across the Ocean to Swim or Sink =-.

  • Canadian Candy
    Posted April 20, 2011 8:43 pm 0Likes

    However Close Window with Request parameter set to YES is preferred .. ..Text Optional Default blank ..MARKUP RESULTDATASET DatasetName..Specifies the name of a dataset to be created and populated with window ..

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