Falling Forward: Are we about to crash? I’ll have a Diet Coke.
I am flying. I’m on a Boeing 737-800 plane. There are 16 first class passengers up front. Then I can see 24 economy plus seats. I am seated in the vast expanse called coach which has 15 rows of six seats each.
The flight is full.
How are we even staying up in the air with so many people sitting in this tube is astounding.
The plane takes a jarring hit of turbulence. I can feel the abrupt jolt like that first turn in a roller coaster. My stomach vanished as it waited behind a split second from the rest of my body, then slammed into my torso as it catches up. Then another bounce. The fluttering continues as I look around, not able to focus on reading.
The captain is not telling the flight crew to take their seats. Did they pass out in the cockpit? Was the bouncing not as bad as my reaction indicated? The team keeps a hand on the service carts as they work. I take note of the gentle knocking noise coming from the beverage dolly. The vibrations continue, so the turbulence is not my imagination.
The flight attendants listen intently to passengers for our important requests. Diet Cokes, ginger ales and waters. The doting servers reach and jerk as they hand plastic cups back to customers who are safely buckled in.
We jiggle about in the turbulence. Each time I wonder if that was the tremor that will cause the crew to push their carts back to their cubbyholes in the rear of the plane.
The attendant gets to my row. I take my iced Diet Coke from the hands of the uniformed attendant.
“Thank you for serving us during the turbulence,” I say. “It does not look easy.”
“Oh, you’re welcome,” she replies.
But she is surprised. She smiles. We make eye contact.
A half hour later in the flight she is back at my side. She leans down toward me.
“Thanks for what you said earlier. Most people don’t notice,” she quietly states. She hands me an unopened bottle of wine. “For when you get home. Don’t tell the other passengers,” she smiles and laughs.
I did not expect a free gift! I am embarrassed and grateful.
I said thank you while she was serving because I empathized with how difficult that job must be to serve people in such a cramped fashion, and quadruple the challenge when bouncing around while playing waitress.
In hindsight, I imagine this exchange with her coworker. The pair are in the back of the plane talking. She tells her colleague that “one of the passengers said thank you for serving during the turbulence.”
“Wow, that never happens,” replies her coworker. The two of them look at each other, nod in recognition of their emotions and have a moment where they feel that their efforts are appreciated. For at least that flight, perhaps they both felt their job had an ounce more purpose. They were praised and thanked. They felt seen.
And then one of them said “we should give that guy a bottle of wine.”
Imagine how great we would all feel if we took the time to just tell each other we appreciate their work.
We all perform in difficult circumstances. We all have trouble doing our jobs on occasion. We make mistakes. We work to overcome. We do not always share the extra effort that went into helping a customer or client.
The crew of that plane would have been justified in shutting down the beverage services until the air was clear. They would not have been judged if they cancelled it entirely. Instead, they all carried on. They did not have their usual charm, as the task required special effort. They made mistakes as they were distracted with maintaining balance. But they put in the effort and kept going.
Stay mindful in both good and difficult times.
That’s falling forward.