Wednesday, February 26, 2014
People say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. I do it anyway.
If a book has a weird title, neon colors or a cartoon zombie/monster/alien on the cover, I'm probably going to purchase it. Fact: I almost bought a book printed in German (which I don't speak) because the cover artwork was so mesmerizing.
Anyway, I recently purchased "Through Painted Deserts" at Goodwill because:
1) I loved the title
2) the cover photo was very vintage
3) it cost a dollar.
The book's subtitle is "Light, God and Beauty on the Open Road." As soon as my eyes scanned those words, I was hooked. It felt like a perfect description of my job as a flight attendant...except that I cruise clouds rather than highways. Which seemed like a minor detail.
I didn't read the book immediately.
At first, I was content to simply hold the novel in my hands, admiring its black-and-white photo and riveting title. 253 pages of raw emotion awaited me, I knew. But the mystery, the waiting period was so alluring.
Today, a passenger approached me in the galley. Tears streamed down her face and her lip quivered as she explained the series of tragic events she'd endured recently.
I sat down with her and listened while she poured out her heart. I'm a "stewardess," sure...but I'm also a human being, and when someone comes to me in a state of despair, I can't help empathizing with that person. Whether she's a stranger or an old friend.
Her sniffles eventually slowed, then ceased altogether.
The girl curled up against a window. Soon she was fast asleep, exhausted from the emotional purging she'd just done.
I returned to my jumpseat in the back of the plane, and "Through Painted Deserts" stared up at me from my duffel bag.
Today was just another day on another airplane bound for a big, Southern city. But there was surely "light, God, and beauty" here on this open road.
The colors of my life are vibrant and, at times, completely overwhelming. Often the panorama is so surreal that I can't find the proper words to describe it. But I will keep trying anyway.
I will keep listening to strangers' stories and admiring their offbeat cover artwork, because it's all part of a bigger tapestry that involves love, empathy and a deep appreciation for this multi-faceted world of ours.
Whatever it is that you're doing today, I promise you're marching through a dazzling "painted desert." I also promise there is light, God and beauty along the way. Just keep your eyes open. You'll see what I'm talking about.
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
To the little boy writing poetry in seat 17C:
I’m sorry your brothers made fun of you.
I’m sorry your mom warned you to “stop that, it’s embarrassing.”
Adults aren’t supposed to say this, but it’s cool because I’m not actually an adult (I just look like one; I’m about 15 years old, on the inside): sometimes grown-ups invent stupid rules because they’re blinded by their own insecurities.
Yep. That’s a mouthful. But let me break it down.
Grown-ups don’t know everything.
So when your mother says that you’re doing something wrong or drawing negative attention to yourself, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true.
Of course, there are times when she might be right. Now and then, your heart might lead you down a dangerous path. Foolish decisions can be so appealing; occasionally it’s tempting to do something that you know is going to hurt others.
But there are also times when your heart is going to speak so loudly and so eloquently that even you will be surprised.
Look, I’m just here to serve pretzels and make sure everyone arrives in Raleigh safely.
Nobody asked for my advice. In fact, nobody even batted an eye when I walked past (except for the guy in the exit row, but he’s been reading Maxim the whole flight and hasn’t turned the page once. He’s stuck on one particular “article,” if you know what I mean…).
So feel free to dismiss my dime-store psychology.
But, if you choose to hear the words I’m whispering into the universe, please remember this: you are allowed to express yourself in ways that others might not understand.
Poetry is not “girly.”
It’s not embarrassing, or pointless, or weird.
It doesn’t mean that you’re gay (although if you are, that’s perfectly fine).
It doesn’t mean you’re anything less than awesome.
In fact, I am inspired by your hand-written poem. I write poems too, although mine are often scribbled on paper towels and napkins. Yours looks so neat, inside that green notebook. You’ve got impressive handwriting, my friend.
Keep being you.
Keep doing your thing; you’re good at it.
And if people can’t handle your awesome quirks, it’s their loss.
(a.k.a. the flight attendant wearing the huge zombie pin)
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
If you are a world-famous rockstar with millions of dollars to burn and a toxic love for heroin, then you can easily relate to the story I’m about to tell.
Otherwise, you might be shocked. At first.
I’ve been reading “The Heroin Diaries,” which chronicles Nikki Sixx’s (the lead singer and bassist for Motley Crue) journey into the dark, twisted world of narcotics. He compares heroin to a mistress who captured his attention and then demanded everything from him. Music, friends, hygiene and sanity fell by the wayside. Nikki’s life morphed into a quest for more drugs, stronger drugs. The high always wore off. His thirst for pleasure and fulfillment could never be quenched.
In the mid-80’s, Nikki’s heart stopped after a show in London. He died in a filthy alley. Alone and half-naked.
But he was revived.
You’d think this would set him straight, right? Give him a new appreciation for life…and maybe convince him to return to rehab?
About a year later, Nikki died again. And was revived once more. The fact that Nikki died twice isn’t even the most baffling part; I’m more surprised that he lived to tell the tale. And that he managed to get sober, after committing so many years of his life to what is arguably the most addicting substance on earth.
“The Heroin Diaries” is, without a doubt, the toughest book I’ve ever read.
On several occasions, I had to pause and take a ten-minute break. Because it was too intense, too terrifying. Heroin caused acute paranoia for Nikki, so he often hid in his closet. He believed men in combat boots were hovering outside his front door, waiting to slice him to pieces. He also believed that his friends were spies, and his life would end prematurely. He was certain that it was his destiny to die young.
Every chapter describes an instance where Nikki lashed out at people. Usually, those people were simply trying to help him.
Every chapter also includes references to Nikki’s childhood. His main reason for using was to “numb the pain” from his past, but the drugs actually forced all those memories to resurface. Nikki’s greatest escape proved to be the most constricting force in his life. He sought freedom but wound up in chains.
Isn’t it funny how that works?
You don’t have to be an iconic singer to know that life’s biggest aches can’t be remedied by a bottle, pipe or syringe. You don’t have to be a famous rockstar to realize the things which promise relief often end up doing more harm than good.
A good friend of mine struggles with heroin addiction.
I’ve had my share of unhealthy vices, sure. My past includes plenty of shameful moments, moments I don't like to discuss. I’ve misused and abused many things, including (but certainly not limited to): my body, my mind, others’ bodies and others’ minds. I’m a human being and therefore subject to certain disgusting habits/rituals.
But heroin has never been one of them, thank God.
No, literally…THANK GOD.
As I watched my friend fight his heroin addiction, I remember thinking: this is the hell I’ve read about, heard about, and imagined. This is misery, personified.
In fact, the reason I initially picked up “The Heroin Diaries” was to gain a better understanding of what my friend went through.
And here’s my general conclusion: none of us is “above” addiction. Nikki Sixx had a more *glamorous* life than the average person, but his struggle is no different from ours. Furthermore, his desire to banish deep-seated pain seems pretty standard.
We hate our sordid pasts. We are drawn to quick fixes and promises for a brighter future…or, at least, a brighter “right now.” We are constantly searching for utopia and a sense of importance/value/belonging. Even when that search leads us to destructive places, we linger there. We make ourselves at home. We hope that things will get better…someday.
Nikki’s former lover, an artist called “Vanity,” sobered up and found God. Nikki took a little longer to get clean, but eventually he did. Which is nothing short of a miracle.
The book reminded me how fragile we all are. Abandonment in childhood can lead us to habits so destructive they nearly kill us. Our biggest dream becomes our biggest enemy, but often we are so committed to it that taking a step back seems impossible. We just want to be loved, appreciated, respected. But we make fools of ourselves in an attempt to attain that admiration. We try to destroy the bad parts of our lives, but end up destroying the good parts too.
Grace is not to be taken lightly.
Hurt, loss, pain…it’s all real. But so are second chances.
Nikki Sixx was 29 years old when he wrote “The Heroin Diaries.” My age.
Though our lives are very different, there are some striking similarities. You want control, Nikki. You want the beauty but not the pain. You want love and admiration and to stay young without actually confronting your youth.
I hear ya. Trust me, I know what that’s like.
You chose to self-destruct because it was easier than actually facing your demons.
Been there. Done that. We’re on the same page, my friend.
But then something amazing happened. You found the strength to turn away from those dirty syringes. You admitted you needed help. You sought it, wholeheartedly. And shared your harrowing tale with millions of strangers.
Nikki, you turned it around. Your private hell is now public, which took a LOT of guts.
2014 is my year of being brave. Yours began the moment you decided to share your excruciating, nauseating, surprisingly relatable story with the world. There is no shame. Only acceptance and, more importantly, hope.
Saturday, February 1, 2014
Life is meant to be this way-In the span of half a day
One city to another
One city to another
Twelve hundred miles to cover.
To the tune of morning rainThe passengers start boarding.
Island laughter fills the plane,
Illuminates the morning…
“To Montego Bay!” we cry-“Island life awaits you!”
We pick up speed, then start to fly
With grayish clouds to soar through.
A yawn, a stretch, then time to workI shimmy toward the last row
Inquiries escape the lips
Of strangers in the shadows
“Do you do always work this route?”A woman blinks up at me.
“Does it wear ever wear you down?”
Her counterpart asks lightly.
I smile, shrug, and wave my hand“It’s nothing but adventure.
I had a dream, I took a chance-
And, in the end, found treasure.”
The woman reaches for my armHer eyes are wide with wonder.
She tells me she’s afraid to fly
Afraid of diving under…
Afraid of living to the maxAnd staring straight at danger.
Afraid to look ahead or back
Or in the eyes of strangers.
I point out, that cannot be right:She booked a flight and held on tight
She’s heading someplace foreign-
She’s heading someplace foreign-
Then waved goodbye to boring.
She broke the barriers of fear,And apathy, and panic.
She had the guts to make it here
Above the blue Atlantic.
She had the guts to talk to meWhich seems a bit courageous.
She’d shown a lot more bravery
Than I had seen in ages...
She seems to be so shocked by this,Like I’ve made quite a statement.
And soon the plane begins to dip
Toward the island pavement.
Passengers get up to leaveTheir smiles tell a story:
Vacation at their fingertips,
Freedom, beauty, glory.
That woman is the last to go.Her actions then surprise me-
With tears about to overflow
She hugs me pretty tightly.
“I don’t know you,” she explains,“But you have really changed me.
You had nothing here to gain,
Yet you loved me freely.”
I cannot find words to say,Which doesn’t happen often…
I smile and watch her walk away-
Gone, but not forgotten.
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Last week, I traded my shiny gold wings for a pair of flip-flops.
My extra uniform, folded into a neat stack of blue polyester, was removed from my suitcase and replaced by tank tops/mesh shorts. I was finally about to set foot on Mexican soil. The anticipation was insane; I’d been practicing my Spanish for a month….and wondering how a “sky girl” would handle a week at sea.
It had been nearly a decade since I’d gone on a cruise.
Back then, in 2005, I was a college student with no inkling that someday I’d be a flight attendant. In fact, I didn’t even consider it as a career option. It seemed like some make-believe job, not a real career here on planet Earth.
To this day, it still blows my mind that I get paid to travel and turn strangers into friends. Is this actually my job? I often muse. Did someone crawl inside my brain and conjure the perfect way to satisfy my need for excitement AND variety?
When I was in third grade, I wanted to be a veterinarian. Sometime in middle school, I decided that teaching was a more suitable option. By my early teens, I was certain I’d become a lawyer. Then, in my twenties, I came to the conclusion that every line of work is mundane and I didn’t actually want to do anything…except read, volunteer, drink tea and take afternoon walks.
Unfortunately, that isn’t very lucrative.
I stumbled across the aviation industry by mistake; after a trip to Vegas, I consoled a terrified 10-year-old girl and realized that maybe, just maybe, I could do that for a living.
Life takes some weird turns, huh? But that’s half the fun of it. The only thing I love more than a good adventure is a good mystery…
Anyway, cruising as a college student in 2005 seemed drastically different from cruising as a flight attendant in 2014. Plus, I was going with my parents this time (instead of people my age). Plus, I was nearly thirty now (even though maturity level puts me at roughly 14 years old). Plus, I was no longer a vegetarian (which meant I could eat EVERYTHING at the 24/7 buffet).
I had no idea what to expect, but I knew it would be crazy. Absolutely wild.
Within a few hours of being on the ship, I was in love.
With the sea, yes. With the rhythm of the waves and the constantly-playing dance music on deck, absolutely. With the setting sun as it disappeared into the navy blue horizon, yep.
But what I loved most of all was the enthusiasm of the employees.
These people were my kinfolk, it seemed.
Sure, we worked in different settings. But we had the same heart! We shared a thirst for adventure and a refusal to settle into typical, everyday life. We loved talking to strangers, being on stage, and traveling to exotic places.
Our brains were wired a little differently. “Weird” was our “normal.”
That first night onboard, the entertainers dazzled everyone. They danced and sang with enough energy to lift us from our seats. I found myself clapping along and even pulling my dad to his feet so he could join me.
What a rush.
I went back to my cabin that evening and journaled about how connected I felt to these employees. They were my nautical counterparts. I wanted to meet them and ask a billion questions.
Toward the end of the cruise, I got my chance.
While my father was relaxing in the whirlpool, I spotted the ship’s break-dancer on deck. I tapped his shoulder and proceeded to explain, in my typical frenzied way, that I was a flight attendant and therefore his “sister” in the skies. He didn’t laugh at me…at least, not externally! We discussed our gypsy lifestyles & all the reasons we love our jobs. It felt like I was talking to any one of my co-workers at the airline; the conversation was easy, natural and fascinating.
He introduced me to a few more dancers. I walked away feeling invincible.
To Grinzz, Sinitta and Troy: I miss you guys already. And I totally get you.
After all, we are made of the same key ingredients: curiosity, boldness and optimism. We have big smiles and bigger dreams. We want to hold the world in the palm of our hands. We want it all.
Eventually the cruise ended, and I returned to my sky life.
But I can’t help reminiscing about those five magical days at sea. When I go to sleep, I can almost feel the churning of the ocean beneath my bed. I can almost taste the saltwater in the air.
It’s a wonderful thing, really.
Sunday, January 26, 2014
Once upon a time, a girl told a boy she loved him.
She didn't do this with any expectations or hidden motives. She simply felt he deserved to know the truth. She wanted him to remember, especially during life's toughest moments, that he was truly loved.
Now, don't get the wrong idea...
This story may have opened with "once upon a time," but it's no fairy tale. It's real life, which means it's messy. Confusing. Beautiful and broken. There's no "happily ever after;" instead, there are a series of lessons. Love is often a tapestry of heartache and relief; different threads weave through each other, creating a baffling (yet breathtaking) image.
I've heard, and read, and believed that women are not supposed to say "I love you" first.
One book went so far as to claim that women ought to "shut up & be mysterious." Let the man pursue you, the authors of this book urged. Let the man chase after you. Let him fall hopelessly in love with your evasiveness.
And, most importantly, never EVER let him know how you really feel about him. That is, apparently, the kiss of death. Love must be kept quiet, until it's guaranteed to be returned. If you express your feelings first, you give away all your secrets. There's nothing left to be desired.
I suppose that's one way of looking at it.
But there's a flipside to that coin, right? Maybe?
Life is short. Too short to bite your tongue, in my opinion. None of us are promised to live 'til tomorrow.
If we really believed today might be our last, would it change our course of action? I think it would. My friend lost her husband in 2013. One morning, she woke up with him beside her. The next morning, he was gone.
And that is real life, folks. That's how the cookie crumbles sometimes.
So, in my opinion, if something needs to be said, say it. Today. This very minute. In fact, pick up the phone right now...
Ok, let's get back to our original NON-fairytale:
This girl told the boy that he had opened her eyes to a world she'd never imagined. He had taught her how to care about someone without expecting anything in return.
The boy had shown her how liberating it can be to put someone else's needs above her own.
He'd helped her become brave.
Call me crazy, but I can't see a downside to that.
If women aren't supposed to express their feelings first, then I'm a disgrace to my entire gender. Frankly, I'm ok with that. My job isn't to follow some dusty old roadmap or adhere to someone else's rules. My job is to navigate these rough waters in the best way I can, with the tools I've been given.
So let's set sail, shall we?
Friday, January 17, 2014
You were in my dream last night, baby girl.
I'm not going to tell you that you don't exist. I'm not going to point out the very real possibility that you might never exist. I refuse to dismiss you as a figment of my subconscious, over-active imagination.
The world has already done enough of that. I promise.
Instead, I am going to tell you that you're beautiful.
If you ever glance in the mirror or smile for a quick photo, your grin will be so bright I'll have to wear sunglasses to shield my eyes. Just kidding, I never wear sunglasses. But I will make you wear them. Because that's what parents do: protect their little ones from the dangers of this world. Including UV rays.
There were years I dreaded your arrival.
I wanted to be free and unattached; children seemed like a handicap to that unbridled freedom. Anything that required even a modicum of responsibility was a chore, in my opinion. Not a blessing.
Then, there were years I eagerly anticipated your arrival. I wanted it so badly that I'd wake up crying. Everyone else was married; everyone had moved on to the next stage of life. I felt like I was watching a parade from my bedroom window. Or, perhaps more accurately, watching my own funeral.
Smile, baby girl. The story gets better.
See, I realized there are different paths in life. Not everyone travels in the same straight line, and that's ok. You entered my life via the beaten path, the trail with a Weeping Willow on one side and a briar patch on the other. I wouldn't have it any other way. I always loved a good adventure.
When you're older, you will see how special you are. For now, just remember that there is nothing accidental about you. I had plenty of time to evaluate whether or not I was ready for you. Trust me, I did a lot of soul-searching. Three decades' worth (...and counting).
People have children for many different reasons. A friend once told me that her kids were her legacy. They were her proof she had done something meaningful with her life, and her way of solidifying a place in eternity.
Grace, you are not my legacy.
You are my treasure, and you are loved more than you can imagine. But you were not born because I needed a guarantee that someone would take care of me when I got old. You were not born to ensure that my life would extend past the day I took my final breath.
You were born for so much more than my wants or my needs. Thank God.
Speaking of God, I promised Him that I would name you "Grace." Because you were an act of mercy; I never could've done anything to earn you. You were a gift.
I'm glad I saw you last night. It was a dream, so the background was fuzzy...but you were clear & sharp. Bright red cheeks, and a big Italian nose. Just like your mama.
If you ever read this, it will be proof of God's love.
Conversely, if you never read this, it will also prove God's love. The timing and outcome not for me to decide. We'll see, little one. We will see whether you exist someday or not.
Either way, it was great to meet you. Even just for a moment.