My plane landed late at the Dallas-Fort Worth International airport. I was traveling from the west to the east coast and scheduled to facilitate a training early the next morning. I was nervous about landing late in a large metropolitan city and having to rent a car and find my way to my hotel at night.
Never having been to the Dallas airport before, I discovered it to be massive and spread out. My connecting flight was in another terminal miles from where I had landed. I knew if I missed my connecting flight, I would probably be travelling all night. The thought of not sleeping and being ill prepared for my gig was causing heightened anxiety.
I was lugging a large bag on my shoulder, my book and purse and running as fast as I could in my stylish new boots. When I arrived at my gate 10 minutes before my flight was scheduled to take off completely flushed and severely out of breath, I noticed the door to the plane had closed. The attendant at the gate briskly informed me that I was too late and that they had closed the flight five minutes ago.
I perceived her judgment as she took in my flushed face and wild appearance. In a loud and rather hysterical voice and waving my boarding pass, I demanded to get on the plane since it had not yet taken off. She became equally emphatic telling me that it was too late. There we stood each holding our ground, glaring at each other when I noticed my right hand was scrunched tightly in a fist.
I wondered, “What am I going to do? Do I plan on punching her out?” I happened to also notice my other hand clutching my book, “The Art of Happiness” by the Dalai Lama. The irony was impossible for me to ignore. I immediately shifted position and said to the attendant. “Wow, you have a very challenging job!” This kind of situation must be very difficult.”
She looked at me and visibly softened, giving me a wry smile. “Yes, it is difficult and I am very sorry.” I quickly replied thinking there might be an opening here, “Any chance I can get on that plane?” “Unfortunately, no you can’t” she replied. “The plane is full.” We looked at each other for a few seconds and then she added, “Here’s a $25 gift certificate. Use it for any of the restaurants here at the airport.” I took the gift certificate smiled and thanked her. As I walked away, I noticed a young mother herding three small children, and decided to offer her my gift certificate. She seemed surprised and then gave me a big smile and effusive thanks. I walked away feeling like something special had just happened.
So what did happen?
I chose to shift from my rigid position to extend empathy to the attendant at the gate. We moved from an antagonistic relationship to one of mutual understanding and connection. On the physical level, I felt the stress in my body dissipate; the neurons stop firing, the blood flow rushing into my chest and arms with the “fight or flight” response move back into my head, helping me to think more clearly. My sense of humor returned related to the irony here and with it, my empathy and understanding which supported the shift in the attendant.
Savoring my newfound calm and connection, I then chose to pay it forward.
I remember often with a smile; my fist, my book and the power of empathy.
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/infradept/