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    The Importance of Attitude

    It was December 21st, in the mid-1990’s, that I learned an important lesson. Generally remembered through most of the year, I forget it routinely when the first of December rolls around and pressures mount. I share it with you in the hope it will reside more firmly in my memory and inspire you also to remember the importance of one’s own attitude…

    I stood at the top of the jet’s aisle feeling very sorry for myself. Already burned out from weeks of travel and teaching, I was doing the last thing I wanted to do at that moment – boarding a plane to go teach a workshop the week of Christmas. Surrounded by the happy chaos of excited travelers, going off to visit family and friends, my mood was black. The joy I usually found in my job, in the wonder of flying, and in meeting new people was oddly missing. All I wanted was to find my seat and bury myself in a book until I got to Dallas.

    Growling at inexperienced passengers with too much luggage and too little sense, I made my way finally to my row only to be greeted by a sight that made me, if possible, even more Grinchy: an elderly woman was in my treasured window seat with a young boy beside her – and a row strewn with bags and packages. Mustering a fair degree of patience, I checked my ticket and rechecked the row number. “I’m sorry, ma’am, but you’re in my seat.”
    Tears welled up in the woman’s blue eyes. “I know,” she almost sobbed, “but I don’t know where to go.”

    “Well, just check your boarding pass. What does it say?” I asked sharply. How could anyone not know where they were supposed to sit?!?

    Now, the tears spilled over as she mutely handed me her boarding pass. They were supposed to be in row 22. We were in row 5. Facts that I explained to her – pointing out how to read a boarding pass and where the row and seat numbers were posted. Things I had taken for granted for years were new knowledge to her. She and her grandson were both making their first trip together to see relatives. She’d never flown before – and here she was, in the chaos of holiday travel.

    Selfishness warred with guilt, and guilt won. I couldn’t leave them on their own to navigate the 17 rows aft. The aisle was crowded and getting more so. Already, there was too much luggage that didn’t fit anywhere, and these two had carried on loads. I called over a cabin steward. Alarm flashed over the faces of my new charges. “It’s OK,” I assured them. “But you do need to check some of this luggage.”

    In the face of their bewilderment, I explained gate-checking luggage and how and where to pick it up. Adrift in this strange new world, the grandmother trusted me to sort out what of her items could be checked and what we could stow. Most of her things went back out the front door; some we carried carefully aft as I got them settled into the proper seats. She thanked me profusely as I started forward up the aisle, feeling a little less sorry for myself and a little bit brighter.

    Her wishes of “Merry Christmas” and “God bless you” were ringing in my ears, and more importantly, in my heart, as I began repeating the same pattern over and over again. It must have taken 30 minutes to move back up those 17 rows against the sea of incoming passengers. I gave directions, tucked bags into the rapidly disappearing open spaces, reassured children and nervous flyers, and slowly started smiling more and more. For as I helped get people settled, they invariably wanted to know who I was, and in sharing my story, I was reminded of how cool my job was – and how great it can be to travel all over the country meeting people like them.

    Hot and sweaty, but much happier, I finally got back to my row only to be confronted with the ghost of Christmas past – my very recent past. He was wearing a finely tailored business suit and a scowl. “If you’d sit down in your seat, the rest of us could get to ours,” was his sage advice. It was like looking in a funhouse mirror, and I froze for a moment, not knowing what to say.

    Silence actually hung in the air for an improbable moment before one woman in back of me piped up, “But SHE’S the one who got US all organized!” Somehow, this did not mollify the spirit that confronted me. If anything, his scowl deepened. Chagrined and still tongue-tied, I slid into my seat as the businessman stalked by me, and people in the nearby rows cracked up, laughing. “Man, he should lighten up!” someone observed. Which further increased the volume of laughter. Holiday spirit reigned in the first few rows for quite a while.

    As conversation around me returned to normal, I looked out at the gray day and reflected upon what had just happened to me. I’d long studied, and even taught, the importance of paradigm shifts and personal attitude, but I’d never encountered such a strong example in my own life before this.

    The airport receded as the plane pushed back, and I opened up the book I’d purchased before boarding. It was a collection of readings entitled Chicken Soup for the Soul, and I flipped to a page at random. The book fell open on a quote by Viktor E. Frankl: “… everything can be taken from a man but one thing: The last of his freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” And I realized, with humble gratitude, that I’d been given an early Christmas present by a planeload of strangers.

    It is December again as I write these words as a reminder to myself and a lesson to you all. For nothing had changed in the situation that faced me on that airplane 22 years ago. I was still traveling and working during what was, for most people, a holiday. My daughter’s special Christmas bedtime stories would be read to her over the telephone. I would be very lucky to be home with my family on Christmas Eve – and yet – internally – everything had changed, which made all the difference.

    “Your focus determines your reality.” – Qui-Gon Jinn


    Thank you for sharing this. I’m struggling with my mood a lot lately. Stress. Frustration. Whatever it is, it makes it harder to choose better. Just remembering that it’s a choice makes a difference though. When in a poor mood, it’s easy to feel like there is no other choice, that this is just what is happening and we are powerless. But that’s never true! Even as I write this it’s helping me lighten up a bit.

    I believe it’s time for me to make a reminder. I had a bracelet I really liked but it got caught on something and broke. I should fix that. Or work on a Jedi code bracelet again. Something that keeps this all front of mind. :-)


    Also from me a big thanks for sharing your story with us. It is just too easy to get caught up in stress, bad mood and self-pity. Me too I constantly have to work on those things. Some days I feel like I made big progress and on other days it feels like just standing at the beginning. My personal big thanks goes to my little one. She is teaching me every day that patience has to come first as this is putting us or at least me in the position, the stage at which I can decide how I want to deal with my emotions which otherwise would overwhelm me. Just yesterday we got home a bit later than usual from a very nice Christmas Market which my wife and I enjoyed and also I knew and could feel that our little one had been already overly tired, I thought that she is still doing okay, especially as she was enjoying her evening bath as usual. But when it came to body cream her, put on the diaper and pyjama it got her over her edge and she was just crying and hardly manageable and that had been when I shouted out her name loudly. But in this very moment I realised that that doesn’t help at all and actually makes it even worse. So I calmed down, started to silently and peacefully talk to her and it became better and we could finish the bedtime preparation even with a smile on her side.
    So, yes, our attitude we can chose and it has a big impact on how others sense us and approach us.

    Kol Drake

    Re: The Wee One
    At this stage, they ARE the point your entire world revolves around. This is a good thing. As she grows (and learns), she will grasp her expanding awareness of everything around her. She will explore. She will fall. Momma and Poppa will be there to help them get back up and show her ‘the Way’ of things.

    As you said, it is all about attitude and patience… with Self and with remembering priorities.

    Kol Drake

    Viktor E. Frankl & Qui-Gon Jinn speak along similar lines.

    Very nice Christmas tale, CTJ. Very nice.

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