When you read this today, I will be in the air, somewhere along the seventeen-hour journey home from Luxembourg. I would like to think that I will be reading, writing or engaging in some other extremely productive activity. However, it is likely that I am watching all of the movies, or sleeping.
I’m going to be gracious to myself.
I’ve had a lot going on.
I’ve flown alone a lot over the course of my life. My very first solo flight came when I was thirteen. I flew to see extended family members in California, from Washington State just weeks before September 11th.
There was no talk of my traveling alone for some time after that.
That first flight is clear in hindsight. Though it’s hard to think back before all of the added security, this was back when anyone could walk up to a gate. I had a member of airline staff with me, escorting me because I was an unaccompanied child. They gave me snacks and placed me in sterile holding areas with other youths on the loose.
Ever brimming with character, I was on a recycling kick. I spent a good part of my vacation picking up cans and bottles and collecting them in a large garbage bag. That same garbage bag filled with beach beer cans came with me through security, was placed into the overhead bin and arrived safely home, where I promptly recycled it.
I shake my head when I think of it now. That would never happen in the world we live in today.
I shake my head for another reason, though, too. Now, as then, I often choose the complicated way, not seeing the path of ease, the path that makes sense.
I carry my recycling from state to state on a plane.
I started flying alone again when I went to college in the midwest. I developed a rhythm, learning how to pack well, how to navigate small bathroom stalls with large suitcases. I learned that I could take the place of the airline escort who made sure I got where I needed to go.
Many of you reading this have no idea that I am quite short. I’m five foot two (and a half) and I look up at nearly everyone I see.
I can stand up completely at a window seat on a plane.
Picture a small person trying to wrestle an overpacked suitcase into an overhead bin. If you wanted to rush in and help, you have proved that my harder-than-necessary strategy works.
When in doubt, struggle as publicly as possible and hope someone comes to your aid.
That works pretty well on a plane, but can be downright dangerous in life.
Thanks to Brené Brown, and quite a few other concerted messages along the way, I’ve started learning about asking for what I need. It’s amazingly simple, so simple that the girl who brought her recycling across two state lines would never think of it.
I was recently flying back from Texas with a bag typically weighed down by books. There was a young man behind me, wearing plaid. He looked up to the challenge. “Excuse me,” I said. “Would you mind helping me with this?”
Not only did he help me wedge my bag into a completely full overhead bin, but he removed the smaller bag he’d placed up there himself.
“Would you help me get it down, when we land?” I asked.
I’ve been flying solo for years, and that was the first time I actually asked for help. There was no hinting, no knees buckling under weight or glares from flight attendants. I simply asked for what I needed.
I’m not good at asking for what I need. When I do manage it, I often feel guilty and avoid being specific. I’ve been afraid that I would meet with a resounding: no. If I don’t ask, I can stew, or grow frustrated, or hold out hope that one day my needs will magically be met.
This has not worked well for me.
It hasn’t worked well with friends, it hasn’t worked with ex-boyfriends before they were exes, it hasn’t worked with bosses or co-workers or classmates or roommates. In short, I have failed miserably at getting people to read my mind instead of choosing the solution so simple that I would have never considered it: being honest about my needs.
I wonder, sometimes, what would have happened if I would have gotten married soon after college. It’s likely that I wouldn’t have done as much flying on my own, and that my husband might have been the one to put my bag in the overhead bin, no asking required. For that reason alone, I’m thankful that I’m “flying solo” in more ways than one. I needed to learn to ask for what I need, and to embrace the way of grace, right in front of me.