Sunday, November 18, 2012

A matter of perspective

Last week, I found myself on a little regional jet, traveling with our team to Albany, NY.  About 30 minutes after we left Detroit, the pilot announced that he didn't like the readings he was getting from  one of the engines and that we were turning around to land back in Detroit.  The already quiet plane got even quieter.

The woman on my left kept complaining about her son and daughter-in-law (whom she was going to visit) while the woman on my right was breathing deeply into her hands, obviously panicked.  I wasn't feeling so great myself, as my hands were shaking against my will and I was nauseated.  It helped to look across the aisle at one of our team members, who kept calmly eating his sandwich and reading his magazine.  The man behind me summoned the flight attendant, demanding to know how the airline was going to get us to our destination and when that would happen.  I heard her voice tighten as she said very firmly, "Sir.  We are making an emergency landing.  I. Don't. Know."

I just had to laugh at human nature in all its variety when we ended up back at the gate in Detroit.   Some of the passengers on the plane were frankly annoyed and aggravated at the change in plans.  Others were all but kissing the ground, glad to be safe.  When we reboarded the plane a couple of hours later, I found myself sitting by the same woman, still complaining bitterly about her relatives and now adding the delayed flight to her list of resentments.  I personally shared the opinion of the woman on the other side who expressed gratitude that we were safe and that the captain had put our safety over other practical considerations.

The whole experience reminded me of another trip on another regional jet back in the spring.  The little boy across the aisle from me had gone to the bathroom when the pilot announced that we were going to be running into some severe turbulence and he was asking the flight attendant to take up all the drinks and food and sit down.   Again, the plane got very quiet as people became tense.  When the little boy got back to his seat, he asked his father, "What's going on?"  His father said with some bravado, "Well, the pilot says it's going to get really bumpy."  The little boy raised both hands in the air and said,  "Yay!!"

I'm really grateful to my parents who both taught me consistently that while I can't control what happens to me, I can control how I look at it and can control at least some of my attitude about it.   They showed me how to look at things from different perspectives and to choose my response wisely.  Other than their unconditional love, that was the best gift they gave me as I was growing up. 

Others, like the counselor I saw at BU my freshman year and author Victor Frankl (whose writings powerfully influenced me in my early twenties), just confirmed this idea, that we have far more power than we imagine to frame our experiences and to choose our meaning.  And then something happens that just reminds me how true it is that life is just a matter of perspective.

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