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Gifts from a Stranger

Gifts from a Stranger

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Why do you reject that which you must know? Take up the work at hand and do not prevaricate within yourself. You are stronger than you know. Correction. You are stronger than you allow yourself to realize. – LVX

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?
  • great post

    It seems the synchronicity here is for you both - her for someone to help her through the fear, you for being reminded, and the synchronicity that you sat down next to each other.

    - Trish
    • Re: great post

      Yeah. That's how synchronicity often works. I joked to her that *this* is why I couldn't get a direct flight! And she said that she calls people to her when she needs them.

      Of course, sometimes synchronicity is just paying attention.
  • Thank you. I needed to be reminded that things often happen out of the blue when there is a need.

    And to be vulnerable enough to stop being superwoman, roll over and show my underbelly to the gods, and ask for help.

    Big lessons today.
  • Your narrative of this incident, and your comment above, is fantastic stuff, in every sense...enjoyable to read (not in a schaedenfreude fashion, though!), poignant, and well articulated.

    I'm known to be nervous on flights (and in travel of any kind, to be honest--even cars and buses), but I have managed to pull myself through, even the time I was in a storm outside of Cork and the plane felt like it got knocked out of the sky for a moment, and we had to divert to Shannon. I'm glad you were there to help this woman, and to "be helped" in the process!

    I'm also aware of what you're discussing at the end of your post and how it applies to me. A very good friend just asked me the other day, "What can I give you to support you in this endeavor?" (in relation to an ongoing, somewhat deep issue that has been difficult for me in the past), and I was honestly speechless at the question, partially because I don't know what would be best or most useful to ask for that my friend can provide, but also because I just don't tend to allow myself to ask such questions a lot of the time. The reason being: I know there's tons of needs just boiling under the surface in many areas for me, and if I let one out, I fear I'll let them all out, and end up sounding like a needy, whiny creature...So, I don't ask for anything, because I fear I'm a needy whiny creature even when I haven't ever whined. Bad script to be running...but, I'm trying to rewrite it (or get rid of it altogether, if possible!), see the fallacies of it, and act in a more responsible and better manner.

    But, it's still difficult quite often to ask for, or even identify what type of, help that might be needed.
  • heartening!
  • Wow.... I'm so glad that you were there for her.

    What in us needs to control so badly we cannot trust that the pilot will safely land our plane?

    In some cases, this may be less about trust in the pilot, and more about lack of control when faced with a force of nature seemingly bigger than oneself apparently pitted against technology that one does not really understand. People usually recognize that the pilot is not causing the turbulence, but they often don't know anything about aircraft engineering and aerodynamics, and just how over-engineered planes must be so that they can deal with things like turbulence safely.

    Also, in some cases, learning to control something can do a lot to assuage the fear. I've heard of people who were afraid to fly and took flight lessons to overcome the fear. (I'm not suggesting becoming a pilot or even going so far as solo. A few lessons may be enough, and they're similar in hourly cost to therapy. I'm also not suggesting an all-out frontal assault on fear as per G. Gordon Liddy, rather working with fear with compassion, as an ally, if the person is capable of doing so.)

    When I took my first flight lesson, takeoff was smooth, I took the controls, and it felt wonderful. At least until I went through a layer of light chop and promptly thought the wings were going to tear off and I was going to die. It took a few lessons to get used to the sensations. Further study taught me the difference between harmless turbulence and serious stuff (e.g. thunderstorms, microbursts, wake turbulence on takeoff and landing). Flight instructors are experts at working with people who have some fear of turbulence; it's very common. Now, on airline flights, turbulence is just a minor annoyance for me.
  • Amazing story,part of it hit right home with me, I've always used stuborness and control to get through stuff, asking for help has equaled weakness to me. Just what I needed to read today :)
  • A stranger? No, you held yourself in your arms.
    But you already know this.

    I wanted to thank you, sincerely, as one who suffered over 25 years' worth of panic attacks, for doing what you did.
    My last attack was over ten years ago - but I remember them well.

    Terri in Joburg
  • As I read this, I felt like you were holding me too. It was pretty awesome. I'm glad for both of you, and the moment.
  • The first thought I have after reading this, is how brave. She was brave to ask for help from a stranger. Now perhaps she did so out of sheer need, but it is still brave. What an experience. I pray she can shift herself first and get help to deal with anxiety in these kinds of situations.
  • I so love your offerings, Thorn (!). Usually I can't think of one small comment to make, your words often create a waterfall in my mind and heart and 'pages and pages' of thoughts, metaphors and stories pour out. Apparently I need to journal/blog more! ;>

    I made a small offering here myself and linked to this post of yours, wanted you to know.


    Much gratitude,
    Kim Sequoia
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