I grew up an airline brat. My father held various middle-management positions for several well known carriers. Airline brats like me were chronically oblivious. In the glorious days after deregulation and before the days of frequent flyer miles, I, the only child of the Manager of Accounting, flew first class everywhere. It was a world of air travel as different from today as anything could be. I was the oblivious airline brat along for the ride.
And in all those trips, the synchronized words of all the then stewardesses and stewards became immortalized in my brain. It wasn’t until I was an adult and days of first class travel long past that I realized I had learned what has now become my most profound of beliefs from those many airline orators. At 35 years, I have yet to find a situation or an experience in my life where the words didn’t hold true.
The way I remember the phrase it goes something like this: “in the event of cabin pressure drop, oxygen masks will fall. Please don your own mask first before donning the mask of your children.” I remember for years thinking this phrase was utterly ridiculous. Why would someone risk the life of their child by being so insanely selfish as to put on their own mask first? Who would do this?
Today, I finally understand the true wisdom of phrase, that it’s stern conveyance is essential to our human lives and the health of our souls. It is the most unselfish of all acts in truth. I believe that survival and eventually, growth, is based on taking care of ourselves first. Sometimes donning our own mask is the most primal and desperate of acts, required before we even stand a chance of giving anything to others. Without grounding yourself, you cannot possibly withstand the flailing of another, the impossibleness of a situation, moments that feel like and in some case be, an eternity. It is essential that in the most serious and irrational of these moments, to take care of yourself, even if the world around you is falling apart and requiring attention. In doing so, you give others hope. By committing this act, you remain present in space and time, solid and rooted. When you put on your own mask you give yourself hope.
On a recent flight home from a business trip I rode coach. I had spent the flight writing, my one true love in life. When the plane landed I opened my cell phone and began a series of text messages. Each contained an assortment of words of love, missing, thoughtfulness, kindness and extension of myself – of wholly donning the masks of my children, all those who share this immediate world with me. I was full and I could breathe and in that, had the space and time to give myself without relinquish or expectation, to others. The airline brat, now all grown up, still travelling, and no longer oblivious.
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