On the plane to Shanghai-- On Entitlement
I'm awake. Or at least I'm conscious. I'm groggy and stiff and my butt muscles are sore. I return to an upright position and glance around to get my bearings.
We've been airborne for about six hours, maybe a little longer. Most of the people around me are sleeping, although I'm aware of some chatter. It's never that comfortable for me to sleep on a plane. Because I'm little, I can scrunch my body into various postures to find the least uncomfortable position and doze off.
I'm irritated. I'm present to feeling thirsty, too, but the most prevalent feeling is irritation. I'm irritated with the other woman sharing the same row of four seats in the center section of the plane. It's just her and me. She is on one aisle; I'm on the opposite end. We each had an empty seat next to us. But now she's stretched out over the three seats between us, her feet next to me and I've got a good-- well, not so charming view of her butt.
Where's the arbiter? I want to run to Mom or Dad or alert the flight attendant and accuse, "Look! She's in my space. Make her move over into her own zone."
It's not fair. I would've stretched out over three seats. But instead, I'd followed the rules. I'd respected the code of honor. I'd scrunched my small frame into some awkward fetal pose, careful to not go over into "her" space. All I wanted was to sleep and find a position that wasn't too uncomfortable, but I was mindful to not take more than my share. It wasn't mine to take.
I'm not sure why this woman felt the space was hers to commandeer and stretch out into. She clearly wasn't raised by my parents. Growing up, I was always being reminded to be courteous, thoughtful, considerate, helpful, supportive. If I'd expressed any inclination toward entitlement or taking what wasn't mine, I quickly received a course correction, letting me know that that kind of behavior or attitude was absolutely unacceptable.
This training began very early. I remember being a toddler. It's probably my first memory. Mom says I was about 2 years old and she was pregnant with my brother. Her belly was swollen. She was about 8 months into her pregnancy. It was springtime and we were outside in the front yard. Mom was seated on the grass.
I toddled over to some beautiful, bright zinnias planted in the next door neighbor's flower bed. I didn't recognize that those flowers "belonged" to someone else. No, I was just enticed by the color. I broke off several stems and clutched the brightly colored flowers in my hand as I walked purposefully back to Mom.
I knew Mom loved flowers. And I wanted to give her some. Bring her pleasure. Share my joy.
I extended the handful of flowers, clutched in my two-year-old hand.
"Here, Mommy," I smiled. "For you."
Mom's eyes opened wide in horror. Her child had destroyed the neighbor's property. I'd taken what did not belong to me.
She awkwardly struggled to her feet and grabbed my arm, marching me to the front door of the unknown next door neighbor.
"You will apologize! You took what didn't belong to you! You stole them. You are a thief."
She maneuvered me through the death grip on my arm up to the top step of the neighbor's house and knocked on the door, while she stood on the ground below.
"You apologize! Say you're sorry!" she hissed.
The door opened. A lady stood there, peering down at me.
"I'm so sorry!" my mom exclaimed, reaching out and handing the woman the drooping handful of 3 or 4 zinnias. "She took these! I am so sorry! I don't know what she was thinking!" and she squeezed my arm. Hard. "What do you have to say?"
Tears filled my eyes. My arm hurt and I'd just wanted to give my mommy a pretty present.
"Sorry," I mumbled, tears streaming down my face.
"Louder," she prompted.
"Sorry," I sobbed. I was terrified and confused.
I don't really remember any more of that humiliating and shameful experience. Just know that Mom reminded me of that incident over and over again in her insistence that I grow up to do everything right.
So I've been taught to follow the rules. The consequences of not were too painful.
As I grew up, it was my job to not only know and follow the rules, but also to enforce them when I was put "in charge" of my three younger brothers.
The kinder, more compassionate me recognizes that I'm not the only one trying to find a less uncomfortable way to stretch out and get some sleep. But I'm still irritated.
And even though my official period of silence hasn't begun yet, I'm silent by virtue of societal politeness and because I don't speak Chinese and the woman couldn't witness my disapproving glare while she was sleeping in the darkened cabin.
I reach into the pouch on the back of the seat in front of me and open the package of raw vegan coconut crisps. Food will make me feel better. I'm not really hungry, in fact, I am very thirsty and my water bottle is right there, but no, I'm eating these little flakes of dehydrated coconut to bring me comfort.
I drink some water, but the bottle is nearly empty. Rather than stretching my legs and going back to the flight attendant area to ask for my bottle to be refilled, I take a small sip and put the bottle back in the pouch.
I know what will make me feel better. An apple. A nice, juicy, crisp organic apple. I can imagine the sweet juice, dribbling into my mouth. Thanks to Steve, there just happens to be one in my bag in the overhead bin.
Last night, after we'd driven home from LAX-- Los Angeles International Airport-- having just returned from our trip to Houston to celebrate Mom's 80th birthday, Steve went to the natural foods market near our home to get some snacks and to purchase produce to make a huge, colorful kale salad I could take on the plane.
I'd ordered a vegan meal when I'd made my flight reservations.
What showed up a couple of hours ago was a tray with a little square dish with a few pieces of iceberg lettuce with a little container of some lemon-flavored salad dressing; a roll; and a plate covered with aluminum foil. I peeled it back, just to see what it was. It was a couple of very small mounds of white rice with a small piece of grilled asparagus on top of each. There was also another tiny dish with four pineapple chunks and a slice of strawberry. None of it organic, of course.
I'd already begun to munch on the delicious organic kale salad Steve had prepared. But I still ate the little pieces of asparagus and the pineapple. And the iceberg lettuce.
I recognize I'm no longer feeling irritated. What's made me feel better was not the food. It was the acknowledgment of the feeling, feeling the feeling and letting it pass through.
When I was first recognizing the irritation, my first inclination was to glance up at the screen hanging from the ceiling a row ahead and see a movie playing on it. I would immerse myself in the film and bury my feelings. It wasn't my kind of film, I could see right away. Too violent. It was some gangster film and there was Nick Nolte. I recognized some of the other actors, but didn't remember their names. I reached for the headphones and plugged them in. I'd watch, anyway.
No audio. Of course not. I flipped the dial and there was music on one station and more music and I could hear those. But I flipped back to the channel for the movie. Nothing. Nada. I recognized a summons to write. Feel my feelings, acknowledge them, write about them, share the learning opportunities I'm experiencing, and watch the feelings shift, change, evolve, dissipate.
The woman has awakened. She's sitting up, peering through glasses at a small book. Balance has been restored. The two seats between us are once again an empty, neutral, open zone offering us ample elbow room.
We still have several hours before we reach Shanghai. It's a 14-hour flight from LA. I've got a 7-hour layover in Shanghai, then will connect to the flight taking me to Sydney. That will take about 5 hours, I'm told. (It was atually much longer.) Not the most direct route from LA to Sydney, which normally is a 14-hour nonstop flight, but the cost for this itinerary was significantly more affordable than any of the other fares available when I booked my flight a few months ago. It's summer in Sydney, peak season, and having been there once before in January in 2006, I know it will be beautiful.
I'm carrying more than I'd intended, way more than I wanted. I'd intended to "travel light." But as I packed, I felt I "needed" everything and used up all the space available. And then filled the smaller bag to use as a carryon. Both bags are heavy.
It will be two days later when I arrive in Sydney on 15 January in the afternoon, Australian time, having crossed the International Date Line. The intensive final course in Transformational Kinesiology will begin the following morning and continue for five very full days, ending on the evening of 20 January. (It will still be the 19th in the States.)
I've allowed a couple of days to get situated and decide where I'll go next before I begin my year-long period of refraining from using my voice on 23 January.
I'm ready. And now, I think I'll stretch out and take advantage of the space. After all, I'm entitled. Right?
PS As I lay stretched out over three seats instead of just taking up two, in that drowsy space between wakefulness and catatonic, I felt the gentlest whisper-soft touch and realized it was the Chinese woman putting one of the airline-provided blankets over me. It was a kind gesture and I appreciated it. A couple of hours later, shortly before our flight landed, we made eye contact for the first time. I smiled at her. I felt no resentment or annoyance whatsoever. She smiled back. I'd gotten my passport out and was looking at the boarding pass for the connecting flight from Shanghai to Sydney. I handed my passport to her. She looked at it carefully and nodded. She handed it back, then showed me hers. It was in Chinese, but the photo was her, all right, and her date of birth was 3 January 1947. Despite the language barrier, we'd shared a moment and felt a connection-- and I had recognized an area where I'd reached "the edges of my compassion" and accepted the opportunity to shift that experience into a different place.