As we prepared for takeoff, the man kept heckling me. He was determined to make me react. I refused to oblige which only made him angrier. Through snark and snipe, I remained as cool as a cucumber. I felt like I was floating above his anger, just like the airplane would soon be cruising above the clouds.
What he couldn’t know was that I’d recently had a revelation that changed the way I interacted with passengers, the rest of the crew, and everyone in my life.
For a long time, I held the view that my experience of life was dictated to some part by the people who shared it with me. Quantum physicists might call this entanglement; I’ll call it “commingled baggage.” I always hoped, especially on long flights, that interesting people would show up to amuse me. When they didn’t, I’d be disappointed. When people complained or shouted in the cabin, I took it to heart--as though I needed to give more,do more, be more. I expected everyone to be satisfied with my work, all the time. If they weren’t, I perceived it as a reflection on me.
In other words, I was carrying a lot of emotional baggage with me on the job.
One typical day in the sky, as I pushed the beverage cart down the aisle in economy class, serving Cokes and ginger ales in plastic cups, passengers on both sides of the aisle started tugging on my skirt and jacket to get my attention. Three or four kids screamed simultaneously. Some guy made a snarky comment about the “bimbos,” who are working this flight. All of a sudden, I was on sensory overload in the middle of a snake pit. My brain kept shoving thoughts against the back of my throat. “Who do these people think they are? I’m only one person! I can only do so much!”
Stories about stewardesses who have had total breakdowns mid-flight are always circulating around the airline community. Out of the blue, a perfect Susie Stew suddenly morphs into a human thunderstorm, screaming at the passengers, throwing things around the cabin, or crying hysterically. I’d always wondered how such a thing could happen to a perfectly normal girl--but now, I understood. I also knew that if something didn’t shift very, very soon, I was going to be the next big sky gossip feature: Hurricane Rebecca.
I closed my eyes and drew a deep breath, praying to God to get me the hell out of there. All of a sudden, I was lifted right out of my body. A vision of Mother Theresa, tending to the poor int the gutters of Calcutta, flickered across my mind-screen. As those desperate, wounded people tugged at her hands and ankles or clung, frightened to her robes, she didn’t scowl or brush them off. No, she tended to each of them in turn, nurturing them, loving them despite their despair.
Suddenly, I saw the passengers on the flight as those poor residents of Calcutta: needy, clutching, demanding. I could choose to hate them, and see them as impediments to my enjoyment of the situation--or I could nurture them patiently, do what I could to make them comfortable, and see the simply as... people.
I floated back down into my body, and exhaled my breath in a rush. Filled with compassion, I let a smile spread over my face. Every person in that cabin was a person just like me. No better, no worse. They all had their own baggage, their own fears, their own anger. But none of their stuff had the power to affect me unless I allowed myself to be affected.
After that day, I was never again in danger of having a public meltdown. In fact, I became the go-to gal for advice about how to deal with troublesome passengers.
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