After a long weekend celebrating my husband’s milestone birthday, we waited for our delayed flight home. With a tight connection in Salt Lake City, the odds were not in our favor as we boarded the regional jet in San Francisco.
That set-back magnified on the runway when the pilot informed passengers that security issues precluded us from proceeding. We learned that Air Force One was about to take off and protocols called for all air traffic to be held.
Spotting the distinctive presidential aircraft near protective hangers, we watched Marine One arrive and with eyes riveted on the plane, watched it taxi and take off moments later. We found the experience exciting even as hope drained that we would make our connecting flight. With no control over the situation we figured we might as well enjoy this rare sight-seeing opportunity.
But the woman behind me had a different story she would be telling that night. Pushing her call-button, she registered dismay with the flight attendant, insisting that the pilot radio ahead to Salt Lake City and have her plane held. Turns out, she was headed to our small Montana airport to visit a friend and would be missing the same plane we would.
Unhappy with the response the crew member gave her, she flagged down a second attendant half-way into the flight and made the same request. For a second time, she was told that the airline was aware of our delay and determined the feasibility of holding a plane based on the number of passengers affected and on-time guidelines.
She fumed. She squirmed. She ranted. Hoping to help, I turned to talk to her, telling her we lived in the area and there was an evening flight option. But my words ignited more ire. “How can you be so calm?” she demanded, followed by an energy-depleting oratory. Her seat-mate tried his best to calm her too, offering perspective from his flying travels. But his efforts were dismissed.
Finally he engaged her in conversation about her work. “I’m a transformational coach,” she explained. “I facilitate retreats to help people cultivate inner awareness, release limiting beliefs, and create balance.” When she bolted from her seat as the plane reached the gate, her seat-mate offered, “Maybe you’ll discover a transformational lesson in all this.”
As ironic as her profession seemed, my first thought went to the transformational need we share, from time to time, to keep small inconveniences in perspective. But then I realized this wasn’t a story about treating small happenings as big ones. Instead, it was about the stories we tell. Hers was about a trip gone awry; mine about a surprising occurrence. Yet it was the same event.
The stories we both told that night were not just stories. How we saw the day’s happenings was how we experienced them. Her day was fully of frustration, mine of curiosity. You and I can be in the same place at the same time and have the same experience, yet we walk away with different impressions, different perspectives, and different stories.
It seems to me, in the scheme of things, it isn’t so much the experience, but the story we tell about it that holds power over our days, or our years. Different stories yield different lives.