I remember reading where, years ago, coal miners would take a canary in a cage down into the mines where they were working. The reason was that one of the hazards of coal mining is the frequent presence of methane gas. Methane is monotonously lethal and claimed a fair number of diggers. The bird, it seems, is even more sensitive to the toxic gas than humans. The miner would keep the bird where he could constantly check to see if his canary was woozy. This would never happen today because there would be 13 lawsuits, a PETA boycott of coal, pressure from UMWA for the birds to join, and a candlelight vigil in front of PetSmart. Back in the day, however, canaries were expendable. If you worked in the mine, you watched the birdie. If the little guy assumed mine temperature it was time to leave post haste.
I was recently on a plane to Dallas and sat across the aisle from a uniformed airline pilot who was obviously catching a free ride on a company flight. He was nonchalantly reading the paper and ignoring the preparations for takeoff. You must understand that I don’t fly very much and so I forget all the sounds and movements of an enormous metal contraption exchanging the tyranny of gravity for the magic of aerodynamics. At every bump I found myself looking over at the hitchhiking pilot to scan for signs of concern. Nothing. Something overhead would slightly groan and I would steal a glance at Captain Oblivious. Nada. Well, it seems that the one who had the most knowledge of the situation thought we were just fine. Pretty soon I accepted the fact that if he wasn’t worried then maybe all was well. My canary was okee dokee.
When the flight landed I gathered my bags and headed for the Dollar car rental kiosk. Eager to get my rented mule and flog it north to Denton, I handed my ID to the rep. “Mr. Colvin” he said. “Yes?” I replied. “Did you know that your driver’s license expired last month?” “No” I answered. “Is that bad?” “Sir, we can’t rent you a car with an invalid license and neither will anyone else.” Just like that I go from purposeful traveler to one of those homeless people who lives at the airport. My conference was 40 miles away. My hotel was 20 miles away and cab fare would have been in the hundreds of dollars for the weekend. I was dead in the water.
After sitting for a good while on the bench beside the rental counter with my head in my hands, rehearsing how unfair and mean life was, I remembered that I knew a guy who lived in the DFW area. After a few phone calls I was picked up and carried to the house of a friend of his and given a vehicle to drive for the weekend. In less than an hour I went from the emotional pit to the mountain top where all was right with the world. Driving off in my free transportation and pondering the mysteries of providence, I remembered where I had heard this story before.
The story was from a couple of thousand years ago when a group of men were on a boat crossing a stretch of water. A storm arose and they began to fear for their life. Their leader, who had masterfully handled every situation until now, was actually asleep there in the boat. They did not take comfort in his serenity. The storm and the waves became the basis for their expectations and the obviously unperturbed demeanor of their master did nothing to quiet their fear. All they could see and hear was immanent death by drowning. As you who also recognize this story already know, the master responded to their cries and got them through safe and sound.
As it happens, the master of life was with me the whole time in that airport, totally relaxed, with the future well in hand.