I got a call to pick up a flight attendant on Super Bowl Sunday. She was in her late 50’s, and doing her best to keep up appearances. She was a contradiction: impeccable, every hair in place, well put together, perfume kicking, but harried, running late and struggling mightily with more luggage than she could handle.
She looked like a person in distress, so I got out, walked over and asked, “Can I help you with your bags?” She just grunted.
I got the impression she was really committed to struggling, and wanted to struggle on her own. I’ve noticed that struggling can become quite an addiction for some people. And then there are those who become addicted to helping the people addicted to struggling. As I usually do when I see someone struggling, I grabbed the biggest bag and put it in my trunk.
Immediately she began bitching about the Super Bowl, how “barbaric” it is. I thought, this should be interesting. Maybe she has progressive views about patriarchy, so I brought up the topic of male aggression. That kicked off a riff from her about how women shouldn’t complain about male violence because they “ask for it,” which somehow opened the door to complaining about property taxes in Austin, which lead to a rant about all the ways society is going downhill.
Within 15 minutes she was dropping F-bombs. In my effort to regain some control, I asked her not to cuss in my car.
There was great pressure in her speech, barely taking a breath, as she ripped everything she hates in life. Which was plenty.
She was miserable, infected with opposition to what IS. The more she resisted in life, the more baggage she carried, and it was spilling out all over me. I began wondering how I was going to tolerate her in my car for 30 more minutes. As she ranted, an alarm went off in my head that sounded like, damn, how am I like her?
I started thinking about all the times I do that to people, stand around griping, mimicking a person with no grace, robbing others of their peace because I can’t feel my own. I wondered if I ever make people feel this way when they’re listening to me on a bad day. I was mortified to see this aspect of myself reflected in this woman.
I tried to redirect, asking her, “Have you ever tried meditating?”
“Oh, yes”, she lied, “I meditate all the time.”
You can always tell when a person lies about meditating because their thoughts fly about like a pile-up at the Indy 500. Ironically, she made a sudden leap to talking about the problem with traffic, how much congestion there was with cars racing all over the place so much that you can’t even relax anymore.
I thought, it’s possible that I dislike this lady more than any other passenger I’ve ever had. But rather than employ my usual bag of therapeutic interventions, I tried something new and risky.
I asked her to shut up. Of course, I said it nicely.
“Ma’am, would you mind if we had some quiet for a while? I’d really like to drive in silence.”
She sat in the back seat apologizing and berating herself for a couple of minutes.
I felt badly, but resisted the impulse to engage with her. I let her stew, and things got quiet. And things got nice. For 10 min we drove in sublime silence. One could feel the fragrance of peace settle in the car. I was certain she hated me but was glad to help her experience this. Perhaps more than that, I was grateful for the opportunity to soak up some silence for myself.
When we arrived at the airport, I opened my trunk and unloaded her baggage. I handed it back to her, grateful I didn’t have to carry it anymore, and hoping she might be able to drop some of it.
Then she did something that surprised me. She walked up to me and handed me a $5 bill. “Thank you for giving me the chance to learn how to manage my anger better,” she said. She smiled at me. I smiled back.
And I wonder where all these angels are coming from.
*Names and some details have been changed to protect identities.
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