Gifts from a Stranger
How well do we know ourselves? What are we avoiding?
Try as I might, I could not manage to get a direct flight to Charlotte, so had a layover in Chicago yesterday. This turned out to be an act of synchronicity:
Last night I held a stranger in my arms... She was on the airplane, in my row. We sat with a seat between us, empty but for her piles of papers and books, which she would occasionally reference as she tapped away on her computer, just as I am tapping on mine now.
An hour into the flight, the captain announced that we would encounter some turbulence upon descent, because of the storms over Charlotte. This woman turned to me and said, “If I reach out and touch you, it is just to reassure myself”. I said that would be OK, and returned to my music and my book. Moments later, the plane shook and her hand reached out. The turbulence passed. Another jolt, and the hand reached out. I pulled off my headphones to tell her it was fine for her to hold the armrest, or indeed my own arm. I saw that she seemed frightened, so began talking her through breathing slowly and down through her feet. Between rounds of turbulence, it came out that I sometimes counseled people with anxiety. “Really, you work with people who have panic attacks?” Yes, sometimes, though not always. “I do spiritual direction,” I said. “I’m a Pagan minister.”
More turbulence. The plane rocked, she gripped my arm. At that point, things began to get much worse for the plane and for her. I leaned over, holding her arm, talking her through breathing. “Touch the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. Imagine breathing down to your feet.” She began to whimper and beg for help. It soon became apparent that though we were both trying, she was barely keeping herself together and was heading into full, hyperventilating panic. I told her to hang on, cleared the seat with one hand, got her computer out of her lap and to the floor and said, “I’m coming over.” And I did, buckling myself one handed into the new seatbelt, and pulling her toward me with one arm. The physical enfoldment was not going to be enough, so I threw my aura around her, and asked my contact, LVX, to help. As I murmured that she was surrounded by light and safety, she settled down, resting in my arms. We sat together and breathed as the plane bucked and shook, fighting the wind and rain. We kept breathing and centering, breathing and centering, for about half an hour, until the plane finally touched ground.
There is more to the story, of course. More effort on both our parts, more snippets of words spoken and energy exchanged. But mostly, the story is, she was afraid and asked for help and I responded.
Once on the ground, she thanked me, calling me “a general among soldiers”. I gave her a few more techniques to try and told her she could contact me, and gave her a bit of LVX to call upon for the journey back to Chicago, and recommendations for Rescue Remedy. Mostly, I told her she needed to deal with this, because putting herself through such strain and terror was not good.
Riding in the buffeting storm toward Light Haven for this retreat, I hoped she was OK in her rental car, somewhere on the road.
How are we like her? She had sought out hypnotherapy, but talked herself out of believing in it. She is busy. She works. She has children and a partner. She always manages to come last, leaving herself in panicked situations when she most needs the structure of some day-to-day support. What in us, right now, needs to learn something new, or practice something old, so we are prepared for what may come?
In her crisis, she knew to ask for help. How often do we ask for help? How often are we willing to be vulnerable? How often do we know we have a need, but are avoiding it? What in us prefers the strength of our resistance, bolstering some part of self? What in us needs to control so badly we cannot trust that the pilot will safely land our plane?
I feel grateful to this woman for all of these reminders, for these lessons, and for giving me both the opportunity to help her and the chance to reflect on the parts of my ego that still engage in the dance of avoidance. So today, I asked for help to face the tasks that are in front of me.
How about you?