Something about airplanes makes me want to break out the laptop and write.
We were flying Ryanair for the first time. Enroute to Prague from Dublin. Budget airline. Cheap tickets. Bare bones. Scraps of food and wrappers on the floor when we boarded. Employees who looked less than thrilled with their occupation. We anticipated all this.
The Czech flight attendant “greeted” us onto the plane with a mumbled salutation and eye contact that lasted exactly zero seconds. That is, until Eli walked by with his bright blue hat, orange backpack, a big smile, and a cheery “Thank you!”. She looked down and smiled. We went to our seats.
Twenty minutes later the same attendant set-up to do the safety demonstration right in front of us. Being new to flying, the boys were thrilled. Front row seats. Eli gazed with rapt attention for the duration. If he was ten years older you would have thought he was in love. After she was finished and before walking to the back of the plane, she leaned over to him with a smile of her own and teasingly asked if he was ready for the safety test. Eli giggled.
About an hour later Eli’s new friend arrives beside him again, this time with a gift for her “best passenger” – little cookie sticks that you dip in Nutella. Eli feels like the luckiest kid in Europe – his parents would never allow such a sugary indulgence. He shares the treasure with his brothers then gets out his pen and notebook to write a thank you note.
“Thank you so much! I loved that Nutella. I shared it with my three brothers. You are a really nice flight attendant. Thank you Ryanair. I love Ryanair. Love Eli,” (complete with a drawing of an airplane over the ocean and a Canada flag).
Upon delivery of said thank you letter to the staff at the back of the plane, Eli did not return for ten minutes. We could see his little legs dangling from the flight attendant’s seat with three of them crouched around him chatting and laughing. When he finally did return, it was only to ask if he was allowed to eat some candy they had given him, then back he went.
Fifteen minutes later we had started our descent and the prodigal son returned. With a smile on his face, he casually climbed into his seat like he had just come home from a friend’s house.
“What were you guys doing back there?”
“Everything . . . and we were doing selfies.”
If you have any friends who work for Ryanair, check their Instagram feeds for pictures of Eli.
Upon landing, the attendants insisted on making everyone else wait on the buses that were to return us to the terminal so that Eli and his brothers could see the cockpit and meet the pilot. We tried to be quick but everyone was staring at us from the crowded buses as we exited the plane saying thank you and fist bumping the flight attendants. “Ciao, Eli! Have a great trip!!”
Even before all this happened I was going to write about how lucky I feel. You know, “luck of the Irish” . . . see the connection?
And I am SO lucky. I was born in a civilized developed country with a strong social network to parents who were loving and supportive. With few obstacles in my way, I could go to school – and more school, and more school – and I was born with some aptitude to be reasonably good at it. No diseases – I am healthy. No disabilities – my body and mind are fully functional (other than a minor social paralysis that comes out when I’m in large groups of people). I’m never lonely – in fact, I met a woman who I absolutely admire and adore then succeeded in convincing her to marry me. No fertility problems – we had four healthy boys.
The list of ways in which I seem to have won the lottery of life goes on and on. But of course, this narrative could be written differently. We all have our sob stories, our trials and tribulations. I was troubled for a long time as a teenager; didn’t take my health seriously until my fourth decade; because of some weird insecurity, have always felt like I have to constantly earn the love and respect of people I care about which makes me a little sensitive; realizing now that I probably never had skin thick enough to last in emergency medicine.
But there are a couple of things I believe strongly.
First, for all the advantages I have been given, I have no excuses to F-up this life. Sure, there are always reasons people fall off the wagon but to me that would be like being dealt a royal flush, then folding because you have to pee. For Pete’s sake, hold it. Focus. Make the most of the opportunity you have.
Second, part of happiness is perspective. Not all of it – we do seem to inherit a level of happiness from our genes, and there is part that comes from our social situation – but then there are the choices we make. And one of those choices is whether we choose to wallow in self-pity for the bad sh*t that happens to all of us or marvel at the good fortune that also befalls us.
Lastly, we mostly make our own luck. We’re all given different ingredients. Whether we cook a meal with intention and care or let the them spoil on the counter as we pine for what we didn’t get – that is up to us.
We don’t know we’re doing it, but the things we choose to say and do are like little nudges we send out into the universe. Sometimes they are a puff of air that goes nowhere. Sometimes they set a series of events in motion like an intricate maze of dominoes branching off in all directions, ending . . . who knows where?
I have no right to sound preachy here because most of my life has certainly been spent looking out for myself first. But I can’t help but notice the spin-off effects of small good deeds and courageous actions. Eli is a case in point.
I think he will remember that flight attendant and tour of the cockpit forever. So lucky! But as a dad, I’m not just happy for him. I’m proud that he engaged with the situation in a way that created those special outcomes. He could have walked right past the grumpy flight attendant. Not listened to the safety demonstration. Not written the thank you letter. Been too shy to talk to strangers. Instead, he sent his little six year-old nudges out into the universe and made it a better place.
It’s a good day when your six year old teaches you a life lesson.