Finding my Tribe

I often write about how I am an introvert, and enjoy the road less traveled, blah, blah, blah.  But, there is something to be said about the joy and comfort of being among people who make you feel safe, appreciated, validated, and loved.  I’ve actually discovered recently that it is what I live for.

This job as a flight attendant can feel very isolating at times – mostly when working with a crew (or multiple crews in succession) of people with which you have no real connection.  Sure, I can find something in common with almost everyone, and then just “fake it ‘til I make it” to the end of the trip, but discovering that genuine common ground is so exciting that it can feel like a physical jolt of electricity.

It’s difficult, when having to wear a compliant uniform and act in a very specific professional manner, to find the signs of familiarity in strangers.  Crew briefings, which last five to ten minutes in length before the start of a work trip, can be filled with suspense and anticipation as you slowly and painstakingly try to detect the true underlying personality of your crew mates, which whom you will be traveling for the next 3-4 days.  Many times, the flight leader will state that they are relaxed and easy going, but only time can truly reveal their leadership style, their personality, and idiosyncrasies.  Now that I am a flight leader, I usually tell the crew that I’m learning, I make mistakes, I laugh at myself a lot, and that they can too – without fear of repercussion.  I’m hoping that that comes across as more believable than, “yeah, I’m pretty laid back,” which is something that was said by just about every flight leader ever – including the two that have made me cry with their ridicule.

It’s usually towards the end of the third leg (flight) together that you get to see everyone’s true colors.  By then, you can see who is a team player, who is overly competitive and loves to be right at all costs, and who has a sense of humor.  Usually, if time permits, I can get in a few conversations with my coworkers that go beyond the whole, “where are you from?” and “what did you do before this job?” topics, which are quite customary, but still pretty interesting.

Sports teams are usually an easy way to strike up a conversation.  I am a football fan.  I couldn’t tell you the first thing about college sports, but I really enjoy following teams within the NFL.  I’m not 100% loyal to any one team, but my favorites are the Packers, the Jets, and now the Bills (because I think Rex Ryan is freaking adorable).  Of course, as soon as I say anything favorable about Rex Ryan, I usually get responses of disgust, and I have to start all over again, trying to find common ground.

Another easy way to make a connection is television.  AMC can’t seem to churn out a bad show – we are serious fans.  I’m also pretty much obsessed with Vikings, Game of Thrones, and recently, Doctor Who.  And don’t get me started on some oldies but goodies like Battlestar Galactica.  (Yes, I can remember recommending this to dozens of friends, and I can remember with equal vividness the look of their eyes glazing over as I reassured them that it’s not just for sci-fi fans.)  Finding another BSG fan is one of things that makes me irrationally happy.

If these topics fail, I dig deeper, hoping for a connection on the grandest of scales: What motivates them?  How do they view their life?  What are their priorities?  What is their “tribe?”

I really like the current popular use of that term: tribe.  It is the people with whom you naturally, joyfully fit in.  It may not be the family to which you were born, but it is the like-minded group that you are lucky enough to find in this life.  I like to think of myself as belonging to a multiple tribes.  Picture, if you will, a Venn diagram of several circles overlapping in the middle.

One circle is for the nomads, which consists mostly of young people who have abandoned the idea that “roots” are physical restraints to a hometown.  These are the flight attendants, the hospitality workers, the Peace Corp volunteers, the adventurers who pick up and move to new places with no plans of actually settling there.  I love these people.  They make friends easily, never afraid to mix social groups: “New friends, meet old friends, and bring your friends too!”  They stay connected in social media, checking in as they globe trot, hoping to run into a familiar face (or new face!) for a hug at the airport or a pint at the local hostel.  I can run with this crowd occasionally, and they’ll accept me every time I try.

Another circle is for the art and earth crowd.  They knit, host craft nights, partake in beekeeping and home-brewing.  They shop local and grow their own food.  They live in humble houses, go camping, make their own soap, and thoughtfully choose midwives for the births of their babies.  They are awesome, and don’t need reassurance of that fact from any outside source.  In fact, they probably don’t even care that they are awesome.  They usually aren’t huge fans of social media, and can be utterly satisfied with staying in touch with actual mail (yes: letters with real stamps!).  They support and encourage my feeble attempts at gardening and the odd handmade gift.  Some of my very best friends live this way, and I aspire to be more like them.

A third circle is for the nerds – and I use this term with all the pride and love in the world!  (Your hearts skipped a beat earlier in this post when reading about Battlestar Galactica.  Truth.)  Some members of this one can be mistaken as condescending, while also endearingly self-deprecating.  They are intelligent, (sometimes secretly) creative, sarcastic, skeptical, detail oriented, and completely fine with the amount of time they spend playing video games, watching sci-fi, and preparing for the zombie apocalypse.  Best of all, this tribe of mine has a collective sense of humor more clever than any other.  They are fans of Carl Sagan, have quite a grasp of all things mechanical, and are more than likely familiar with the flying spaghetti monster.  I fall quite short in my knowledge of many of these topics, but fitting in naturally with this tribe is quite an honor and privilege.

The final major circle is for the lovers who are overflowing with passion to do good.  These can be the writers, the teachers (including job trainers!), the nurses, the pastors, and the activists.  They have a ceaseless need to follow a call to action.  As they are creating something every day: lesson plans, grant applications, sermons, or even life, they don’t seem to doubt their general direction – despite the odd detail here and there.  Money (or the lack thereof) doesn’t seem to be a deterrent from following their dreams.  Loans, low wages, terrible hours and even volunteering their time to accomplish their plans are just parts of their lives, and they somehow accept it, thankful to be doing the work they love.  Some of these friends of mine have a job just to make money to support their passion, which is something entirely separate.  They are always thinking of how to improve – and I wonder when and how they even sleep because of all of the responsibilities they take on.  They use social media to gather support and create awareness of their passion, and they network with other caring, beautiful minds to achieve incredible goals.  Some people do this on a smaller scale, but with the same fire.  There is one woman with whom I am friends on Facebook who just astounds me with her energy to support anyone who is struggling.  She organizes benefits for those suffering; she publicizes the local arts; she is a champion for human rights.  Every day, there is something positive and powerful coming from her, and instead of tiring, she seems to garner more strength with each achievement.  I wish I knew her better and more personally than only on Facebook, but I take comfort in her existence and the knowledge that this tribe of lovers is thriving in a world that so desperately needs them.

Of course these tribes, as described above, are superficial generalizations not at all meant to offend or pigeon-hole.  I am a blend of the four of them, plus many more, as are many other people.  This was simply a very fun exercise in realizing my connections to, and appreciation of, some of my very favorite people on the planet.  Of course each member of my tribes has a depth far beyond my trite descriptions.  Just like me, some people fit into several tribes.  And, there are some people in my life that fail to fit into any larger tribe at all, and who I consider a partner in our weirdness.  (Can there even been a tribe of two?  Maybe just as likely as a wolf pack of one…)  For those extremely rare connections and relationships, I am even more grateful.

Recognizing these familiarities and similarities in others has made meeting new people such a joy along the way in this career.  True: With crew members and passengers, I don’t have the inside jokes or references of good times past, which is one of my favorite parts of the friendships that remain from before I was a flight attendant.  However, I find myself laughing almost as much in appreciation of all the little things that I find funny, ironic, or surprising.  Delving into the search for commonalities, and simultaneously opening myself up to the newness of people who seem to be incredibly different from me is quite an exercise for the mind and the heart that has made me feel more alive.  Regardless of who I encounter on the road (or in the sky), I always find comfort in the fact that my tribes reach far and wide all over this small, small world.  And, a friend (new or old) is never more than a flight away.

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You Don’t Have to Have it All Figured Out

I’ve put off writing a blog entry for much too long for one simple reason: I couldn’t decide what to write about.  I’ve certainly been inspired countless times since my last post, and I’ve had some down time during which I could write.  However, I’ve had so many false starts.  You see, I’m afraid that if I’m honest and a bit of my melancholy creeps through onto the page, I’ll seem ungrateful for this life, this opportunity, and my incredibly lucky circumstances – which isn’t true at all.  I am very grateful.  I’m also afraid that if I’m honest, my extreme happiness with certain parts of my past few months will come across as bragging.

So, today, on a day off, while I’m under the weather with the beginning of my annual cold/sinus infection, and I have resigned to relaxing in my crash pad instead of visiting with a dear friend in Manhattan like I had planned, I am forcing myself to write.  I haven’t decided on a theme other than complete honesty.  So, for quite-possibly-not-the-first-time, my post may seem a bit erratic, for that is exactly how my mental state can be these days, with this job, and this life.

This summer has been extreme.  I’ve had a full schedule of flying, visiting some incredible places on my layovers: Brussels, Belgium among them.  That’s right: I faced my fear of flying another international trip, and I had an absolute blast with a very senior and supportive crew in an incredibly beautiful city.  I ventured out on my own, with nothing but an umbrella and a guidebook of self-guided walking tours.  I logged about 7 miles of meandering through ancient cobblestone streets, and was able to see all of the most famous attractions, and sample my fair share of chocolate.  In between my sessions of flying, I was able to come home for a family reunion, lunches with friends, a dinner with my “Disney family,” two unforgettable weekend getaways to see local Pennsylvania attractions (Frank Lloyd Wright homes Kentuck Knob and Falling Water, a series of French and Indian War and Revolutionary War historic sites, national parks, and of course some wineries), and some quality time with my parents and extended family to celebrate different things such as my father’s retirement.  It was also jam-packed with other work, as I was also able to substitute as a job trainer on some of my days off from flying.  And, additionally, I’ve been working with clients, booking Disney vacations for families via my newest business venture: travel agent/vacation planner for Polka Dot Bow Adventures.

Falling Water

Falling Water

The summer flew by, and now I’ve smelled the decaying leaves and felt the cooler breeze of autumn roll into the multiple cities I’ve been fortunate enough to explore of late.  I’ve looked forward to this time of year from the start of June, when I knew that summer would be so hectic.  I have been reassured by multiple flight attendants that our schedules are lighter in the fall, which to me, means more time at home.  More time with my loved ones.

That’s where my sadness starts to bubble up.  In the midst of the chaos of my work schedule and boarding and deplaning – rushing to find some sort of nutritious food between flights in unknown airports, I get quite sad.

Recently, a coworker of mine lost her husband after a long battle with disease.  They were known to everyone as a happy, dynamic couple who were very much in love.  While I didn’t know them as well as many others in the work place, it was easy for me to sense how much they meant to each other – even while being completely professional and dedicated to their careers.  I don’t have to wonder what she would give to have another day with her husband.  I don’t have to guess what she would do to have the time back when they were both healthy and making memories that will no doubt stay with her and buoy her through any bouts of loneliness or grief for the rest of her long life.

So, while I have the opportunity to be with my loved ones while I am healthy and young, I can’t help but feel every single day that I should take advantage of it.  Simultaneously, I see the other side of things: I’ve never done things in the same way that seems to work for everyone else.  I’m not necessarily career-minded or money-driven.  I’m motivated by love, creativity and adventure.  Is there another profession out there that could suit me as well as this?  Will any other job give me the warmth of comforting a nervous first time traveler, or accommodating a pair of delirious newlyweds on their hard-earned honeymoon?  Could any other job take me all over the world and grant me a deep appreciation of hundreds of destinations within my own country?  Possibly, but probably not.

The truth is that I have made it through my first 6 months, and I am no closer to understanding this decision than I was the day I was offered the job last September.  I’m nowhere close to having it all figured out.  It’s a rollercoaster of emotions.  Every.  Single.  Day.

But that rollercoaster is quite a blessing in itself.  The clarity that extreme situations has brought to my life has been incredible.  I now fully understand and appreciate a million tiny facets of my life that I had before taken for granted.  Without a big “shake-up,” would I have even noticed those things?  Probably not.  The appreciation of my crashpad roomies for the fresh Amish-made whoopie pies that I brought for them last week makes me feel like a freaking super hero.  The postings on Facebook of beautiful new babies and declarations of true and pure love expressed through elopements or grand wedding celebrations puts an immeasurable amount of joy in my days.  Exploring Seattle for the first time with a group of fun-loving, instant friends from Dallas, and finding out that one of them has a family member in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania just warms my heart.  Discussing documentaries with fellow flight attendants gives me bursts of excitement and anticipation: “Have you watched the one on Tesla yet?  It’s great.”  Getting to see one of my dearest long-distance friends on a layover while she is pregnant and glowing with her first child is nothing short of awesome.

Pamela, Jusciunta, Cody, and me in Seattle

Pamela, Jusciunta, Cody, and me in Seattle

I allow myself to become steeped in gratitude over all of these things, which somehow gets me over the sadness of being away from my loved ones.  But, how long will this last?  How long can I purposefully manipulate my emotions by dwelling on all of this good in order to distract myself from the homesickness that is always there, lurking in my heart?

Part of me wants to make it last forever.  I can be one of those women who “has it all,” (whatever the heck that means…).  I can have one of the most adventurous jobs in the world and hopefully have a family someday.  I’m sure I could do both.  (Uh, right?)  The time away from him only makes my heart grow fonder, allowing our time together to be so very meaningful.  But, the other part of me wants that daily joy of waking up to a house full of life, cooking dinner for my family, going on an evening adventure together, and settling in at home to watch television or play Scrabble while enjoying some wine.  I can’t say that such a life would leave me with any regret…

So, for now, I remain in the limbo of loving my job, but also loving the thought of being home, and not quite finding the balance to commit to either one completely at this time.  Maybe another 6 months will help me make the right move?  But then, maybe there is no one right move…  Regardless, I’m going to keep moving forward.

Home

Home is such a powerful word.  It can mean so many things.  In my heart, it means “my people.”  It’s my mother, my father, my brother, and my aunts, uncles, and cousins.  It’s my brother’s girlfriend, my friends from childhood, our family friends, and my favorite coworkers from past jobs.  These loved ones may never know how many times I think of them while I’m in my crash pad, or in a new city, or on a plane, surrounded by strangers, but they are what keep me moving forward.  I work happily with others, knowing that they are someone else’s “people” and that they could be traveling to their own homes.  It’s an honor for me to get them there safely.  That thought is my comfort when this job seems so lonely.

Sometimes I let it slip, and call my crash pad “home” when referring to where I’ll go between trips.  Certainly, it’s not my house, but it’s become a place where I feel safe.  I can sleep there and wake up feeling rested.  I no longer feel like just a guest there.  My roommates are a group of wonderful girls who are all going through the same challenges of this career (much more gracefully, of course).  They are welcoming, kind, compassionate, and inclusive.  They are all fun in their own way, and I’ve begun to look forward to seeing them at the end of a grueling 3-day trip, or an intense 11-hour turn.  They also don’t seem to mind that I’m an introvert, and I love them for respecting that about me.  When it comes to a “home away from home,” where I live for up to 21 days a month, I really lucked out.

Home also is a word that conjures up a delicious wave of nostalgia.  I had a magnificent childhood, filled with the joys of every season, adventures on a lush Pennsylvania farm, and a closeness to my family and friends that can only be achieved without the distractions of cable television, video games, and other technology that seems to creep into our lives today.  So often I’m filled with gratitude for such a wonderful upbringing.  When it’s hot in New York City, and the city starts to smell and the horns don’t stop honking, I just think of walking down to my family’s pond, surrounded by thousands of fireflies, listening to the sounds of frogs and smelling the fresh cut grass.  In rural Pennsylvania, it’s easy to see the stars at night.  There’s no competition with the millions of city lights polluting the sky.

One of my biggest issues is when people attain a sense of superiority after having moved away from their hometown, as though physically moving to a more populated location, or a location a great distance from their home, has literally transformed them into finer, more advanced human beings.  I often see snide comments on Facebook from people who have relocated to cities or to other states about “good ole’ PA,” and its backwards ways.  I have always thought that this attitude is ignorant, rude and very insensitive to those still living in that same hometown.  People are obviously free to move and make new lives wherever they wish, if circumstances allow.  But to then look down on everyone else who either chose to (or had to) stay there, makes no sense.  Even if a town is terrible, it takes courage for someone to love it unconditionally and choose to stay to make their lives there, possibly improving the state of the place.  There is good and bad to every place, and there are people in every town who choose to purchase their first home there, raise their children there, and have their parents buried there.  People from that town choose to serve their country, based on their love for their home.  Why would someone suddenly feel that they are above all of those things just because they are now elsewhere?

Of course there are places to which I would love to move.  There is California (or anywhere on the west coast, really), New England, and of course several other countries that I could definitely call home eventually.  I think that at least traveling to other places (no relocating necessary) is a wonderful thing for anyone to experience.  It helps to put things into perspective, and it allows for a great appreciation of other cultures.  But, I think that life is what you make it.  An address cannot define you or your worth.

The other day, I flew with a male flight attendant who was going on and on about having recently visited a zoo while on a layover.  He was listing the animals he got to see for the first time: ostrich, hedgehog, cow…  I had to stop from laughing.  “You’ve never seen a cow before?”  I asked.

“Not in real life – only on tv.  I grew up in Brooklyn,” he said.  That humbled me.  I don’t necessarily think that seeing a cow is an amazing experience, but I realized that while I can certainly consider my own experiences ordinary, to someone else, they could be extraordinary.  I told him about where I am from, and how last year, cows got into my back yard about three different times.  I told him how one June morning, while getting ready for work, I looked outside and saw four cows in my front yard, laying down around our maple tree, staring at me through the window, as though I was the one out of place.  I also told him Amish horses and buggies drive past my house several times a day.  I explained how big my garden was last year, and that I had enough fresh vegetables all summer long to never have to buy a single one from the grocery store.  He was astonished.

Talking about my home made me really happy.  It reminded me that I am so much more than a flight attendant in a uniform with a crash pad in Queens.  I am someone who has built campfires in my backyard, someone who has grown things from the earth, and someone who can change the oil in any vehicle.  I am still so connected to my home and all of the things that being there has taught me, and I don’t ever want that to change.

Just like the flight attendant didn’t know much about Pennsylvania, there is still much of this “metropolitan life” that I don’t understand.  I’ve flown with flight attendants who insist that going to clubs is the epitome of fun.  Standing in line for hours, being openly judged by others on whether or not you are stylish or beautiful enough to gain entrance in order to be in the presence of some celebrities or promoters just doesn’t sound fun to me.  In fact, it sounds like a cruel joke.  He was telling me about the different designer clothing he has purchased that increases the chances of him getting into clubs.  I can’t imagine spending almost $1000 on an outfit just for the chance that it may please someone else enough to let me through a door into a place filled with people that is so loud, it’s impossible to have a real conversation.  The entire concept of this just baffles me, and yet it’s accepted and desired here.

I have seen women take an ungodly amount of selfies and post them to applications like Tinder, where they hope to make a connection with someone based on a two second judgement of their appearance and nothing more.  I’ve heard others refer to themselves as “tens” when describing their features and their bodies.  (Yes, they are ranking their own looks from one to ten, and referring to themselves as a number.)  I’ve walked past businessmen on planes, feverishly swiping left and right as they page through hundreds of photos of these women, who have potentially put hours of thought into making their photos as desirable as possible.  Now, I’m sure that many of these people find what they are looking for, and that much more meaningful things can develop from simply looking at a photo of someone else.  But, it’s nothing that I would ever, ever feel comfortable doing.  The very thought of this whole phenomenon is so foreign to me that I just want to melt into the floor when surrounded by such an appearance-based culture.

I find these observations so interesting because this city culture coexists with the things that I love very much about my lifestyle in Pennsylvania, and they are only separated by 150 miles.  While life in a small town is the butt of many jokes and stereotypes, I find it so much more desirable and fulfilling.  I prefer the peace, quiet, simplicity, and slower pace of life that allows for meaningful conversations and interactions.  Of course, the city is attractive because it has so many cultural offerings, events, and resources for all things educational.  I understand this, and I appreciate all of the good things that New York (or any major city) has to offer.  I’ve come to the conclusion after getting to live in both places, that unless some drastic change would occur, I don’t think I could ever feel that New York is my home.  I’d spend too much of my time longing for forests and fields, and to gather in the homes of my loved ones to ever feel truly settled here.

So, for those of you in Pennsylvania, wishing for a more metropolitan life, by all means, go out and experience it.  My opinion is that it will not bring me any more fulfillment than the lovely life I have in PA.  For me, with this amazingly wonderful yet crazy job, I get to enjoy the best of both worlds, searching for new and rich experiences in the places I travel to, but then enjoying and appreciating the sanctuary that is my home more and more each time I return.  I used to get angry with myself whenever I would feel down after being away from home for long stretches of time, but from this point forward, I will allow myself to be homesick when I start to ache for “my people” and the peace that is Pennsylvania.  Seeing the world is wonderful, but home is – and always has been – wonderful too.

Be Still

Last week, I was fortunate enough to take advantage of some of my new flight benefits and enjoy an incredible week in England.  I traveled throughout the country, starting in London, and meandering throughout, going far enough north to see Scotland.  I saw Stonehenge, Old Sarum, Oxford, York, Reading, and several small towns and villages in the Yorkshire Moors and along the northeastern coast.

Stonehenge

Stonehenge

One of the things that will mark that trip in my memory, besides the beautiful scenery, hearty meals, fascinating history, and feeling of freedom, is a concept that was very clearly articulated in a video I watched on my way home.

A nice feature of the first class entertainment of my airline is multiple TED Talks that passengers can choose to watch during their international flights.  I watched most of what was available, but the one that resonated most with me was by Pico Iyer, titled “The Art of Stillness.”  (Watch it yourself at http://www.ted.com/talks/pico_iyer_the_art_of_stillness.)

In the video, Mr. Iyer, a travel writer, discusses the importance of “going nowhere” in order to truly process the experiences one has in life.  I am not really sure that this talk would have made as much sense to me before my life as a flight attendant.  I would have thought that going nowhere was wasteful when life was so short, or that it meant sacrificing some opportunity to experience something outwardly, or “worldly.”  However, I now understand the importance of stillness and reflection in my life.

Quite often I reflect on a moment or an era, and think, “I didn’t quite know how wonderful that was until it was over.”  Why is it that I have these thoughts now, but didn’t appreciate those special times (as much) while they were occurring?  Whether it was laughing hysterically with a high school friend who has since passed away, sketching nightly with friends at an all-night diner in college, or discussing existential theories in a retail store stockroom with a brilliantly funny coworker, I’ve had some truly beautiful, yet fleeting moments before this period in my life.  Along with the effects of nostalgia, my recollection of those days grows only sweeter with time.  They continue on with me, like living things, continually bringing me happiness.  But, it is the stillness or the “going nowhere” that allows me to appreciate those memories and make sense of why they were wonderful and how they have affected who I am today.

Just as my life now is filled with happiness, adventure, and newness, I must make time for stillness in which to process the events that take up so much of my time.  Without that break in activity, these things pass by quickly, without me fully being able to reap all of the possible benefits and meaning that can be found in each one.  When in one day, I can literally stand in four different cities before arriving home for the night, I can look back and find so much more importance within those 24 hours when allowing myself some designated time to think over it and make connections, no matter how insignificant, to my past, or people I’ve met, or ideas that interest me.  I like to seek out the relevance in the interactions I’ve had, which sometimes changes the experience completely, even after it’s already occurred.

I thought about this concept a lot, and how it relates to travel.  Usually, people are able to travel one to two weeks per year, and then it’s over until the following year, (unless, of course that vacation time is spent on putting a new deck on the house or recovering from minor surgery, in which case it may be a few years until it’s time to travel again).  Our minds have the capability of drawing enough meaning and connections from the memories made during this brief time to last us for an entire year, or more, if we give it the stillness to do so.  Maybe this is the appeal in creating things like scrap books or photo albums: reliving favorite moments, events, or attractions with the aid of photographs or scraps of souvenirs.  There is a certain feeling of satisfaction when all of your tangible memories are neatly labeled and packaged in chronological order in a binder on a shelf.  But, it doesn’t have to stop there.  Without the aid of photographs or any other cues, those one to two weeks can live on much longer, like a pleasant aftertaste of wine.  (On a side note, I’m studying wine right now, and all of its complexities, and it’s just so wonderful for metaphors, but more on that later…)

This idea of stillness makes me feel less guilty when I periodically opt to stay in my hotel room on layovers in order to just think about the things I’ve encountered recently and reconnect with my thoughts.  Being away from home for so long has a way of making me feel off-balance, and being still gives me the wonderful opportunity to take stock in all that has happened since I was last there, and all that may happen to me before the next time I am there.  I think about how it has affected my perspectives, and how to put it all into words, (if I can put it into words).

One of my first trips in May was to Orange County, California with a Boston-based crew.  We happened to score an 18-hour layover on Mother’s Day.  I was feeling pretty down at the time, and the flight leader suggested that the two of us rent a car and go to the beach for the day.  Normally, I try to spend the absolute minimum amount of money while working, but for some reason, it sounded like the perfect idea.  We ended up renting a convertible 2015 Mustang and driving the Pacific Coast Highway, stopping at the most beautiful beaches.  We had a lovely talk with our feet in the sand, watching the waves roll up to us, during which she shared some of her most exciting and romantic memories as a flight attendant over the years.  Then, we went farther north, explored some cute, quirky shops and had a fantastic dinner with breath-taking views from a cliff overlooking the ocean at sunset.  While it was happening, I simply considered it one of those unlikely beautiful days we are all lucky to have every once in a while.  But now that I look back on it, I see it as so much more:

Pacific Coast

Pacific Coast

I had been feeling extremely homesick.  It was Mother’s Day, and I really just missed spending the day with my Mom.  Maybe this woman sensed that in me, or maybe she too was missing her child in the same way, and wanted a distraction for the day.

I was also fearing that I would become desensitized to the wonders of this job eventually, having recently worked with a handful of more senior flight attendants who didn’t seem to have the energy to enjoy much of it anymore.  Spending the day with this woman renewed my hope and excitement for the job.  She had been flying for a very long time, which was surprising because of how youthful and adventurous she was.  She still hoped to enjoy every place as much as possible – even if she had seen it before.  She had lived through so much, and yet thirsted for more, and was completely open to sharing adventures with others.  She was vibrant and kind, as well as intelligent and humble; the sort of woman I aspire to be.  She took moments out of our day to answer calls from family members, or to excitedly tell a girlfriend where she was at the moment.  She had it figured out: she was maintaining those relationships that were important to her by keeping in contact with her loved ones however she could.  All of these things became apparent to me after being still, and looking back on this wonderful day.  It already was something that I would never forget, but now I am able to take so many more benefits from that experience and apply them to my life.

More recently, our family gathered to celebrate the college graduation and engagement of my youngest cousin.  She has lived away from the family for several years, going to college, studying abroad, and working internships with major companies over the summers.  She’s a smart, beautiful and independent woman now, although it’s far too easy to picture her as the little girl who plays the violin, takes horse-back riding lessons, and is obsessed with Harry Potter.  She has surprised us all with her individuality, and the unique paths she has chosen in life, different from anyone else in the family.  In short, as an adult, I feel like we have the pleasure of getting to know her all over again.  Her fiancé has happily joined us for major holidays and family picnics, and although friendly and funny, he is still one of the newest additions to our ever-growing family.  So, with the upcoming combining of two different cultures (he is Egyptian) into one marriage, I don’t think a single one of us knew what to expect.

During the graduation/engagement party, we all caught up with each other, mingling, laughing, and enjoying the plentiful food and drinks.  And then it came time for the “Shoe Game,” in which the newly betrothed couple sits back to back, each holding their own shoe and a shoe of the partner, and are asked questions to which they respond by holding up the shoe of the one whom is the best answer.  For example, if asked “Who is the better driver?” they each respond by either holding up their own shoe, or the shoe of their partner.  In the moment, it was adorable and very funny.  Everyone present was laughing at their responses and their expressions upon pondering the questions.  Afterwards, the night continued with plenty of good times and good humor and love, just like all of our family get-togethers.

Since that day, I’ve realized that playing that game revealed so many things to our family.  It was more than just some entertainment – it was an insight into how these two people view each other, and how they are preparing their relationship as a foundation for marriage.  Whether we realized it then or not, we saw that they are gentle with each other’s feelings, while willing to be brutally honest with the serious topics.  They agreed on the important matters, and were very much in sync with some of the toughest issues that can resurface years into a relationship.  We saw that she loved him completely, and was thrilled to repeatedly declare it in front of everyone she considered family, and we saw that he valued her creativity, her independence, and her wisdom, and would do anything to protect those qualities in her.  Maybe the reason the rest of the night went so beautifully, is that witnessing that game put all of our remaining uncertainties at ease.  Any skepticism that had remained regarding this young love vanished as we watched their interactions with each other, and we all realized that she was going to be very, very happy, and that he was going to bring many good things to our family, just be being part of it.  Although I didn’t realize it immediately, I have come to see that that game had a great impact on how we collectively and whole-heartedly welcomed a new individual to our family.  It was the beatufiful symbolic opening to a season of preparation for a wedding celebration.

Engagement Party

Engagement Party

After considering these moments, I wonder what value does travel, (or any experience, for that matter), have if it is only experienced for exactly the seconds or minutes that it takes to occur?  So many sweet insights could be overlooked if not revisited.  Aren’t those moments worth reflection, appreciation, a smile, a chuckle or a tear in remembrance?  We are human beings, filled with emotion and intellect, moving through an extremely fast-paced world of distractions, vying for our time.  By getting off of this wild ride for a few moments here and there in order to intentionally honor some of the best times we’ve had, we can ensure a more meaningful and fulfilling lifetime.

Notice Beauty

I have been home for three days.  Yesterday, when driving to have breakfast with a dear friend and then visit my mother, I was stopped at a train crossing in a local town.  As a child, I loved when this happened.  It forced us to slow down and stop, while we watched the flashing rusty colors of train cars whiz by in front of us.  I still love when this happens, but now for many additional reasons.  I’m strangely appreciative of our network of transportation and logistics, and the wonder of shipping containers.  Where have they been?  What’s inside of them?  How many vastly different things have they provided for people all over the world?  They look like ancient artifacts, but how old are they, really?  And what forces of nature or man have made them age so prematurely?  I also appreciate the artistry of the graffiti that is found on just about every one I’ve ever seen.  (Can it still be called graffiti if it’s making a big ugly rusted box more beautiful?)  I’ve noticed a positive trend in graffiti both on train cars/shipping containers, and across the cities I’ve visited.  The images seem to be much less about the artists (not so many territorial names, etc.), and much more about spreading positivity and peace.  Sometimes I see beautiful illustrations, while other times, I see encouraging messages.  Yesterday, I saw the words spray painted four feet tall: “Notice Beauty.”

Now, I know that the destruction of private or personal property is a big no-no.  Honestly.  I wouldn’t dream of participating in anything like it.  However, if it’s already been done, it hasn’t actually caused harm to anyone, and if resources don’t quite exist to paint over it, I figure there’s no harm in appreciating it and actually considering it something beautiful.

Today I go back to work for a whopping 21 straight days.  I have all of my travel for the month of May backed up against each other for one very long period of three weeks until I return to my own home, to my own bed, to my own loved ones.  I know it’s been done before by millions of people.  I know I have no right to complain.  After all, I chose this career and I also get to reap the benefits.  I’m not doing anything particularly noble.  I can’t dream of being compared in any way to those who are making grand sacrifices to be away from their families for years on end.  I wouldn’t be able to do that.  I can barely wrap my head around being away for another three weeks.

The comfort I find in being gone is most definitely in noticing beauty.  I make it a point to limit my time on my electronic devices.  When a hotel shuttle takes my crew and me from an airport to our hotel for the night, I’m taking in my surroundings, noticing the uniqueness of each city I visit.  I like to get my bearings, notice the shift in neighborhoods, see what people are wearing as they wait to cross the street, read the illuminated signs of restaurants and shops.  When I recall a trip, I want to have a memory of the way the place looked outside of the airport and the hotel.  Seeing these locales is partly why flight attendants do what they do.  I never want to lose sight of that.

If my layover involves any daylight hours, I go outside, exploring: looking around, looking upwards.  I am a huge advocate of not just being outdoors but using your eyes to really enjoy your surroundings.  When observing hikers, it’s apparent that the thing that captures their attention the most is the ground.  The rocky terrain of a trail can be mesmerizing and can be a distraction from all of the other magical views in nature.  As a hiker, you have to learn to trust your footing – even if you must slow your pace in order to free your gaze from the ground.  I know that tripping and falling is the last thing anyone wants to do, but if you’re putting the effort into going on a great hike, enjoy it for all it’s worth!  (Unless, of course, you’re rock hunting and searching for that telltale glimmer of mica, or whatever mineral you’re after…  Then for you, the magic is most definitely found under your feet.)

The other type of beauty that has brought me to tears a few times so far in my work, is that of people doing something unexpected, entirely out of compassion for others.  I work for a fantastic airline.  Business travelers love us because we’ve got all the amenities necessary to give them an environment of peace and quiet, allowing them to continue to work throughout their flight.  I enjoy glancing at what people are working on while we’re 30,000 feet in the air.  Very often, there are sales presentations being finalized, architectural sketches being started on graph paper, even complex equations being worked through.  Before takeoff, I hear surgeons wrap up their cell phone conversations about the critical patients that they are flying to see that afternoon.  There is simply, a lot of very important stuff happening all around me, almost all of the time.  Sometimes these passengers are too busy to answer me when I ask them about their beverage order.  I understand: their brains are functioning in a much higher level that transcends basic human refreshment needs.  The Coca-Cola can wait.  I’m not offended in the least, and I’ve come to peacefully expect to be ignored by some.  It’s okay: I’m here if you need me, and I will gladly help you, when you do.

One such business man was typing away on his laptop on a recently flight from Detroit.  He was seated at the window, next to an elderly female stranger.  The turbulence had been awful all week, due to the weather in the region, and to no surprise, our tiny aircraft felt like it was being tossed back and forth between giants as soon as we took off.  Within moments of take-off, the elderly woman next to the business man leaned into the aisle, toward me (I was seated with my seatbelt fastened, as the captain commanded that the crew not get up in such violent weather.)

“Do you speak-a Spanish?” she asked me, peering over her thick glasses.

“I’m sorry, not very well.  Un poco?” I responded loudly, over the racket of the engines.  Upon my response, she buried her head in her frail hands, and let out a sob.  Without any hesitation, the focused business man next to her closed his laptop and turned to her, speaking perfect Spanish.  They exchanged a few sentences, and I asked him.  “What’s wrong?  Is she okay?”

He smiled gently and explained that she was terrified of flying, and has never felt such awful turbulence.  I understood her fears: if I had not known what I know now about turbulence and the construction of our airplanes, I would have thought we were going to die, myself.  So, I asked her if I could explain how I learned to be okay with turbulence.  He asked her my question in Spanish, and then I went through my explanation of the physics of how an airplane flies, and the rigorous testing that our aircraft are put through to withstand turbulence much, much worse than what we were experiencing.  The business man translated all of it to her, using hand gestures to illustrate the different points that I was trying to make.  However, after ten minutes of talking and not being able to safely get out of my seat, she was still very upset, crying and hiding her head in her hands.  (Apparently, my technical approach doesn’t work on everyone.)  Long after I ran out of things to say, I sat in my jumpseat, watching the man continue to talk to her.  At one particularly violent shudder of turbulence, he grabbed her thin hand, and she held onto his with both hands for the remainder of the flight.  She cried a bit, off and on, but he continued to smile at her and talk.  I have no idea what he was talking about, but a few times, she looked up at him and smiled, or even laughed before being frightened and sobbing some more.  For the brief time that it was safe enough for flight attendants to be out of their seats, I got them both drinks and snacks and stood in the aisle next to her, dumbly wondering what else I could do for comfort.

Upon landing, the businessmen in surrounding seats powered down their laptops, and left in a hurry.  Silently and seriously checking their watches and cell phones for the times of their connecting flights or their big meetings.  However, the man who sat next to the elderly woman helped her with her bags and walked her out of the plane slowly, and gently.  A huge sense of relief radiated from her as she walked off of the aircraft, and by this time, she was chatting openly and happily with the man.

That, I thought, was quite beautiful.  A man who could have quite easily turned away from his neighbor in order to remain productive, stopped all that he was doing in order to provide the most basic human service – that of comfort, or patience, or even love – to someone he will never see again.  He held a stranger’s hand, allowed her to cry with him, and never once seemed annoyed, or even distracted from the moment.

These are things that I notice that help me get through the long stretches of workdays.  The day I fail to notice interactions like this, is the day I’ve failed to make the most of this opportunity.  I will strive to take it all in, to notice beauty in all of its forms in every place I look.  That is what can sustain me until I am once again home, where it is most beautiful.

The Sun Still Shines Above

The Sun Still Shines Above

even when the sky is filled with clouds, the sun still shines above

I feel as though I’m living in some sort of surreal state at the moment.  There are days that go by when I am flying and everything is very real, yet very fleeting.  The people I meet, whether they are my crew or my passengers, are only around for a few hours or days, and then they are gone.  Some of them leave impressions on me as I move forward to the next new trip with new people and new places, but even those fade and I begin to forget the specific details: their names, the days we were together, or the cities in which we stayed together.  There are other days when I’m at home in Pennsylvania, and I am able to work at my former full-time job as a substitute.  Those days are also very strange.  It’s as though I’m back in my old life and the past three months never even happened.  I see my former colleagues and my former students, and the conversations pick up exactly where they left off in January.  There may be ten minutes or so of conversation about my job as a flight attendant, but after that, we move on to something much more relevant to the work at hand.  It’s surprisingly easy for me to slip right back into the Job Trainer mindset and forget that I am simply a substitute.  On days like that, it truly feels as though it’s all just been one long dream.

Then, there are the days when I am not doing either job, and I am either with my loved ones, or even alone, in my home.  My favorite days are when I am around those whom I miss so much when I am away.  Being away from them has brought me clarity.  I used to strive for peace and understanding above all else in my relationships.  However, it’s not just the peaceful times that I miss when they are not with me.  I miss navigating the little ups and downs that make life so exhilarating.  I enjoy hearing all of the new things that have my family stirring and planning.  I realize that being away in training for two months, and even being gone flying for nine days, has caused me to miss out on some big events in my tight circle.  A cousin has gotten engaged and will be moving out of state.  An aunt will be receiving her PhD, and has landed a fantastic job that she has deserved for far too long.  My brother will be moving in with his girlfriend who has become a very beloved and supportive pillar within our family.  It seems as though every one of my family members has continued to reach milestone after milestone in their lives – all reasons to celebrate.  All of this has occurred and has been occurring partly in my absence, and it’s thrilling to be in close proximity to everyone whose lives are changing so rapidly.  I feel as though I just want to soak it all up before departing for another two weeks.  I look at people a little longer, hug them a little tighter, and make sure to listen as carefully as possible to their news.  I’ve teared up so many times while with these wonderful people, realizing that the world is covered with billions of people, and yet these are mine.  There is no limit to their generosity, their kindness and their love and acceptance.

Group Photo

my girls and me

I realize that when I leave, there is absolutely no guarantee that anything will be the same when I return.  I enjoy the change, and would never wish stagnancy on anyone: I just want to notice and appreciate all of those changes, celebrating the good, and supporting them when things become difficult.

The strange thing is that once I’m busy flying, the time passes quickly and easily because I am so busy and so overwhelmed with adjusting to the fluidity of days that stream by in a blur of time zones, beautiful hotel rooms, and seatbelt demonstrations.  It seems to be the hardest right before I leave home each time.  Hopefully this will get easier over time, and I’ll be able to look forward to the moment I come back through that door without mourning the time in between.

It also doesn’t help that Pennsylvania has come to life in a matter of days.  When I came home last week, it was still ugly and dreary.  Everything was muddy and the skies were gray.  Today, the sun is shining, the forsythia is in full bloom, and the air smells of warming earth.  I wish I could just stay for the breathtaking show that is springtime in the Northeast.

However, I have to motivate myself and remind myself of how very lucky I am.  I am about to experience springtime in several different cities before coming back here in eleven days.  I’ll be meeting new people, having new funny stories to tell, and learning so much more about this fascinating job.  I’ll most likely bump into some of my classmates from training as I enjoy the neighborhood in New York that is my “sometimes home” in between my upcoming trips.  Maybe I can meet some of them for coffee or go see an independent film at the tiny movie theater on the corner…  There are countless things to look forward to.

One thing that I have really enjoyed wrapping my head around is that when we fly, it’s mostly above the clouds.  That seems like common sense and something that everyone would understand if they really took a moment to contemplate.  But I am astonished by the effect that clouds and sun have on my mood.  It could be a rainy, dreary day and I don’t even realize that I feel slightly depressed because of that.  And then suddenly the plane will burst through the cloud cover and the plane is surrounded by golden sunlight.  It’s the most beautiful experience, and the sensation of it still surprises me every time.  Suddenly, my mood is lifted, and I cannot help but smile over these little unexpected joys that my job brings me.  It cheers me up to think that even when I don’t have my loved ones nearby, I’ll always have the sun.

I’ve had a difficult time responding when people see me and ask, “So?  How do you like your new career?”  The truth is that I don’t really know how I feel about it yet.  Yes, it’s been incredibly fulfilling and has caused me to stretch myself in ways that I never could have predicted.  I don’t regret this decision in the least.  However, I am still recognizing both the challenges and the wonders of the whole thing and pondering how it all balances out and how I should react.  I am trying to be grateful for all of it, for even the worst situations have taught me so much.  It may take me a long time to decide what I love the most about it, and what I could do without.  Even the bad days could sound like good days in comparison to a job for which you are not passionate, so I try not to complain about anything.  I realize I have the opportunity to do something that others have only ever dreamed of.  On the other hand, I light up and can’t stop smiling when talking about certain aspects of being a flight attendant, and I have to watch myself so that I don’t come off as being boastful, proud, or pretentious.  For now, I realize it will take a very long time until I feel a sense of normalcy about everything, because it is simply very overwhelming.  However, I can confidently say that I am thoroughly enjoying this adventurous opportunity, and I am thankful for each day that I am alive – whether it is while I’m flying, working with students, or surrounded by my loved ones.

London Calling

So very much has happened in the past two weeks that it’s difficult for me to believe it’s only been that long.  Part of this new lifestyle is the speed and force with which you must adapt to very different conditions in quick succession.  Looking back or looking forward makes my head spin, so I’ve realized the only way to get through it is to be completely present and flexible with whatever I’m experiencing in the moment.

One day I was exhausted with the cumulative stress of seven weeks of new material that would be tested in a series of four different assessments and exams, and the very next evening I was with my parents, celebrating over a fancy dinner in downtown Atlanta’s number one restaurant.  The next morning, I celebrated at the graduation ceremony with my entire class, surrounded by all of our loved ones.  I took my family to the museum and Operations Center to learn about all of the history, accomplishments and technology of my company.

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Alexandria

That evening, I said goodbye to my parents, and I went off on a two-day adventure, exploring filming locations for one of my favorite television shows, The Walking Dead.  I had a wonderful time, and eventually made it home to Pennsylvania.  With just one day at home, with one night of sleep in my bed, which I hadn’t seen in months, I had to fly to New York City from Philadelphia for my base orientation.

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Terminus

For three days, I stayed in a lovely, modern hotel in Jamaica, New York (with a view of JFK airport), and learned all about my new “sometimes-home”.  I saw my crashpad (apartment that is shared with several other girls where we sleep in bunk beds a few times a month before/in-between/after trips when it doesn’t make sense for us to go all the way home before having to report for duty again) for the very first time, meeting some very interesting and friendly roommates.  I was surprised and humbled upon seeing my bunk bed made up with brand new Mickey Mouse sheets/blankets, a new sweatshirt, and a Donald Duck plush – all gifts from another Flight Attendant, Melissa, who has been my guide and mentor through the entire process of my applying to become a Flight Attendant.  (I credit her with my success in the interviews and in training – she has been absolutely amazing!)  I was also thrilled to get a thorough tour of the neighborhood and some of its best bars and restaurants.  (Thank you, Christa!)  The third day in New York was spent with one of my best friends from training, and crashpad roomie, Taylor, as we forced ourselves to learn the very intimidating public transportation system in the city that we would come to rely on regularly to get us from our crashpad to all of the three major airports in New York at all hours of the day or night.  We, of course, took a break to run through Manhattan for coffee and pizza just for fun.

And then Thursday rolled around, which was my first official day on-call, waiting to work my first trip.  As I got texts from my friends throughout the day, hearing that they were called for different trips, I became anxious.  By noon that day, my phone still hadn’t rung with instructions of where I was to report.  I began to get nervous, checking to make sure that I had cellular reception, etc.  I started to wonder if I would even get used on my first day.  Different roommates encouraged me, and even looked up different types of information, assuring me that I was next on the list to get a call – to just be patient.  Then, finally, around 1:30 in the afternoon, scheduling called me to say that I had been assigned to fly to London for three days, and that I had to report to JFK within three hours for duty.  I was so happy to have scored an international trip (especially to London, which holds such special memories for me), as my very first trip!  I literally started crying on the phone to scheduling when I heard the news.

I texted my parents, brother, and my brother’s girlfriend to tell them the good news.  And then, I was off, rushing around, repacking for the U.K. and walking the block and a half to catch the shuttle to the airport.

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The flight itself was wonderful.  I was so nervous to do all of the international meal and beverage services that are required on such a long flight, but my crew was incredibly supportive and patient with me.  I made plenty of mistakes throughout that entire trip, (some worse than others…) but they were very understanding, and if they got frustrated with me, they never showed it.  I enjoyed my 25 hours in London by walking all over the place and visiting three free museums/galleries by myself.

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Greenland

The flight back home, included a highlight that I didn’t even know existed: the headwinds across the Atlantic Ocean were so strong, that we diverted from our original route to fly an extra hour very far north, which took us over the southern end of Greenland – something quite unusual.  The Pilot in Command (also a Geologist) was telling me all about the different formations and mountain ranges that we could see crystal clearly.  He said that he had never had this perfect of a view, and that it was an opportunity for some once-in-a-lifetime photos.  It was an absolute dream, and again, I cried.

Upon returning to the United States, I called my mother to catch up on what I’ve missed and to fill her in on the details of this first official adventure.  Then, I waited in the airport until I was released from being on-call, and caught a flight back to Philadelphia.  From there, I drove the two hours to finally be home.  In one day, I had been in London, over Greenland, in New York City, in Philadelphia, and now my little Pennsylvania town.  It was so comforting, walking up to the door of my house, plopping down my luggage, and knowing I was officially home.  I was about to enjoy a whopping three days off before returning to New York for my next trip.  Of course, the three days have most certainly flown by.  They were filled with running errands, getting my new uniform altered, unpacking, doing six loads of laundry, opening seven weeks’ worth of mail, grocery shopping, cleaning, charging every possible type of electronic device that I would soon need again, ironing, cooking, deep cleaning my car, and now repacking.  I just wish I had longer to actually breathe before setting off on the next big adventure.  However, lamenting over time is a complete waste.  I need to focus on what I have been granted, and be thankful for every moment.

I get by with a little help from my friends.

I have now survived six weeks of flight attendant training, and am gearing up for a barrage of final exams, assessments, and drills.  It’s tempting to relax and enjoy the city with my new friends, but I know that after coming this far, I have to approach this coming week with as much preparation as possible.  As exhilarating as it feels to be so close to the end of such a challenging time, I find myself already mourning the end of this experience.  It will be bittersweet indeed to go back to Pennsylvania to be with my family semi-regularly.  As much as my heart is always with those I love, I will miss my fellow trainees terribly.  I’m sad to think that we may never again all be together in the same room.

I’ve become detached and mopey from just about everyone, because it seems strange to strengthen the bond between myself and anyone else here, only to leave them in five days.  I’ve had this feeling before a few times.  It’s every bit as intense and emotionally draining as the process of being part of a theatrical production.  You start out with a sterile script filled with meaningless words, and rehearsals with random groups of actors and musicians – completely out of order and disjointed.  It doesn’t seem to make much sense at first, and it is comical to think that in a number of weeks, some miracle will occur that will somehow pull the entire production together into a seamless, well-oiled machine that people will actually pay to see.  You are thrown together with people of all ages and abilities, some with large egos and others with multiple insecurities.  You try to identify a friendly face and look for commonalities to find comfort in each other.

And then there is a whirlwind of activities, the numbing repetition of scenes, the late nights, the very late nights, and hours spent in solitude, learning your lines.  You discover beautiful surprises in others – new friends emerge.  Time seems to speed up, and before you know it, you’ve had a few meltdowns, made some embarrassing mistakes, shared your fears with others, and cried quite a bit.  You blink, and it’s already opening night.  You’re standing backstage, mentally running through your scenes, and you can hear the murmur of the crowd finding their seats while the orchestra is tuning their instruments.

That’s the point where we are right now.  We are about to step out onstage to see how our performance is received.  If we get the rave reviews we’ve all hoped for, this show will run for a long time, and it may come to define us.  People will begin to recognize us for the part we play, and may confuse our roles with who we really are.  We will meld ourselves and our emotions with those of our characters and we will do our jobs passionately.  However, we’re painfully aware that mistakes can still be made.  If we forget our lines this time, the critics won’t be very forgiving.  They may even send us home without the opportunity to step onstage again.  At times, you can look to your costars for support in a scene, but we also have a few solos during which we can turn to no one but ourselves.  Stage fright is paralyzing at times, especially when the stakes are so high.

As the curtain is about to open on me, I think of the cast and crew.  The Directors have nurtured us along this journey, and it’s become more and more obvious what they have seen in each of us, and why they have cast us in such coveted parts.  Everyone’s talents have fully developed by now, and we are shining so very bright.  The memories that we’ve made over the past several weeks are flashing before my eyes.  I feel a very deep regret for judging some of the others too quickly and cheating myself out of quality time with some awesome people.  (It has most definitely been my loss, and I’ve learned to keep a more open mind because of that.)  Yet, I’m thankful for the realization of this mistake so that I could make a conscious effort to get to know these people during our final rehearsals.  I’ve gotten to share scenes with just about everyone in the cast by now, and I’ve switched things up regularly on purpose.  It’s taken me quite a while to understand where I may fit in.  I’ve tried to avoid getting comfortable in any one group, so as to never alienate anyone else.  Maybe I’ve come off as being cold or distant, but I’ve certainly gained much by getting to know each person – something I find almost impossible to do in a large group.  I’ve never regretted a moment spent getting to know someone better on a personal level.  My new friends have taught me, inspired me, challenged me, encouraged me, and most importantly, laughed with me.  (Not to mention eaten ramen noodles and sweet potato fries with me.)  We’ve gotten in arguments with each other, grieved together, and most recently, had to say goodbye to one of our own.  This show has been full of ups and downs, and as clichéd as it may sound by now, we have become a family – not just a warm and fuzzy family, but the kind who has seen each other through some dark times with love; even the tough kind of love.

As nervous and excited as we are now, it’s difficult to imagine that all of this time and energy has been spent on training alone.  The real work and adventure hasn’t even officially started for us.  A whole new world is waiting for us in our base cities.  As we are scattered across the country to New York, Detroit, Boston, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles in the next two weeks, we’ll look back on this time fondly, possibly wishing it could have lasted a little longer, but most definitely thankful to have made it through all of the intensity that is the constant testing and conditioning.  For now, I feel mostly two things: anxiety over my upcoming final exams, and gratitude for this awesome opportunity to meet these wonderful people.  It is, and has been, quite a wild ride, and I can’t imagine making it to the final curtain call without each of them by my side.

Always Bring Your Own Sunshine

I am in the middle of a really big week.  It’s officially halfway through our seven weeks of training, and it’s only gotten more complicated, more demanding, and more amazing.  I look back at last week, and think how naïve I was to think that I had seen the most challenging part of training.  I am now convinced that it will only continue to get more intense until the moment I walk out of that final simulator mock-up with my classmates, completely exhausted and relieved to have finally made it.

Without revealing too much information about my employer and their regulations and requirements, I can share that this week was my first operational flight, which is a federally mandated assessment that grades potential flight attendants on all of their safety knowledge onboard the aircraft.  We must do the PA announcements, the safety demonstrations, and then sit side-by-side with an evaluator who we’ve never before met and answer a lengthy list of questions, regarding everything from evacuation procedures under very specific circumstances, to the mechanical details of every piece of safety and emergency equipment onboard, to which many of the answers are required to be verbatim.  All of this is done in the presence of paying passengers on a real flight.  My flight was to Ohio, and then back to Georgia.  It was a very short, flight, relatively speaking.  However, when being tested on such comprehensive material that we began learning four weeks ago, it seemed quite long. 

Of course, my evaluator was incredibly kind, and full of encouragement: something I am finding to be a consistent characteristic in flight attendants within my company.  By having such a warm demeanor, she put me at ease and allowed me to give my best possible performance in order to succeed.  When I finished on the first leg of the flight, I was invited to do the First Class service for the flight back to Georgia.  Having only practiced this once among classmates, I was a nervous wreck, but managed to create and serve many drinks and snacks to the passengers without spilling a drop or looking too painfully incompetent. 

While serving and making small talk with the passengers, I had to laugh at the thought that most people think that “serving a Coke with a smile” is the biggest part of what flight attendants do.  Out of four weeks of training to date, we have literally had only two days dedicated to serving food and beverages to passengers. 

What people don’t know is that flight attendants are thoroughly trained in all sorts of emergency, safety, medical and mechanical skills that prepare them for just about every possibility that could occur before, during or after flight.  Our manual instructs us in such a variety of skills and situations that it covers everything from childbirth instructions to fighting off sharks.  (Seriously.)  I like to explain my recent enlightenment as learning that flight attendants, who may seem like glorified waitresses wearing heels and fancy uniforms, are actually more like secret agents, and are expected to perform their duties without ever alluding to this fact. 

While in the airport on my way to and from my flight, I encountered about ten different flight attendants from my company.  Every single one of them who noticed that I wore the trainee lanyard, stopped to give me words of encouragement, share a story from their own journey as a flight attendant, or even give me (a complete stranger) a hug, saying “Congratulations and welcome!”  Each time, I smiled, speechless from their willingness to spread positive words and welcome new people to their world without hesitation.  One could argue that they were excited for new employees because it increases their seniority (and likelihood to get the schedules and trips that they request), but I know that’s not it.  They were excited to see others who have that same spark for adventure. 

One flight attendant told me that although there will be good days and bad days, to always remain positive because on a flight, you create your own atmosphere that spreads to every person.  Another one, as she passed me on her way off the plane to catch a connecting flight, shouted “Always bring your own sunshine!”  This reminded me of a few people in my life who do this every day:

Carol, a friend of my mother (and now a good friend of mine), has always, always brought sunshine with her wherever she goes.  I know she has been through challenges in her life, but you would never know that due to her radiant personality and how wonderful she makes everyone feel around her.  A room truly lights up when she walks in. 

Brenda, a fellow job trainer of mine, is always seeing the good in people, and never letting the negativity of others affect her.  She’s still always smiling, always youthful, always beautiful.

Leah, my first and best friend from childhood is overflowing with emotion and loveliness, bringing giggles and thoughtful, meaningful insight to every conversation.  One cannot help but connect with her because of how dynamic and passionate she is, socially and spiritually. 

Although it’s a complete mystery to me, these women are able to somehow conjure up the energy to make everyone around them happier.  They would be the most wonderful flight attendants if I could assemble a dream crew from my own friends.  I know I have a long way to go to become anything like them.  I have always been an introvert, and I must part ways with my quiet and self-conscious behaviors if I am going to have a positive effect on myself, my crew, and my passengers.  This whole journey for me has been one of leaving my comfort zone farther and farther behind, and I think I may still have much farther to go. 

Be different.

It’s real and it’s happening.  Actually, it’s been happening now for two weeks, and this is my first decent opportunity to share about this phase in my journey.  I’ll give you the scenario so as to give you a frame of reference at this point:  It’s currently day 14 of my Flight Attendant initial training in Georgia with about 33 more days until graduation (if I make it that far).  There are about 120 trainees who started with me, and we were broken down into smaller classes of about 30 students.  The twenty-eight of us go to class for six days a week, for an average of 11 hours per day.  The majority of us are put up in a hotel and then shuttled to and from the training center, which happens to be airline headquarters.  It’s like any major corporate or college campus with all sorts of activities and offices, cafes and meeting rooms.

By this time, my nervousness has all but melted away.  My greatest fear of not getting along with my roommate turned out to be silly: I ended up with the perfect roommate.  She is kind, funny, creative, intelligent, humble, and insightful.  She’s a wife, a mother (to three children!), a daughter, and many other things to many other people, and she’s younger than I am.  She is also very quiet in group settings, much like myself, and it’s a pleasure getting to see my other classmates get to know her.

The other fear I had in the weeks leading up to this was that I simply wouldn’t fit in.  I consider myself fairly low-maintenance – even by rural Pennsylvania standards.  I don’t wear much makeup, if any; I haven’t gone to a hairdresser since high school; and I don’t own a “designer” anything.  I knew when I started the interview process that some of this may have to change in order to be in compliance with company appearance standards, but I wasn’t prepared for the ocean of perfectly manicured, tailored, polished applicants that turned up for the face-to-face interview months ago.  Compared to them, I felt lost, and I felt ridiculously out of place.  They could probably sense that I bought my outfit at a discount store, and that my shoes were from Payless.  Despite my insecurities, I was somehow offered the job.  The interviewers saw something beyond that outer layer that made them extend an offer to me that could potentially change my life.  Since that day, I had fretted over how to “look the part” so that I’d be accepted.

The most wonderful discovery I’ve had thus far, is that there is no one way to “look the part.”  Yes, it’s true that you get officially disciplined if you are caught with your sleeves rolled up, any fly-aways coming out of your ponytail, or even not wearing a working, neutral-colored wristwatch.  They are extremely strict with some rules.  I had to learn how to use bobby pins and hairspray in order to participate in this training, and neither of those things have been easy to master.  This airline has certain standards that are part of the training uniform, and they are enforcing them in order to condition us to be the faces of their brand when we’re out there, flying unsupervised.  I get it.

But, beyond that, we are allowed, and encouraged, to be individuals.

Out of the 28 students in my class, no two are alike, no matter how often we confused names the first week as we got to know one another.  We are people of all ages, ethnicities, hometowns, backgrounds, experiences and interests.  It is true that there is strength and beauty in diversity – we’ve seen the evidence of that in our classroom and in the relationships we’ve already begun to build.  We are successful as a group, and supportive of each individual.  On average, I’d say that we have exams 5 days per week, plus multiple hands-on assessments – all of which add to the stress we already feel, in a training program that is this rigid and unforgiving.  (If your average dips below a 90%, you are dismissed.)

Under the incredible leadership and knowledge of our amazing instructors, we have been encouraged from day one to lift each other up and seek out those who are finding certain material challenging.  It’s not at all cut-throat and competitive between classmates.  We equally fear making the mistakes that would cause us to be dismissed, and we check on each other constantly – another way in which they are conditioning us for the airline industry.

The sheer number of things that you must be continually thinking of, and preparing for, is quite exhausting – especially when paired with such limited time for sleep and studying.  My schedule thus far has consisted of me regularly waking up at 4:30am, studying until the start of class (10am), and then not returning back to my hotel room until sometime after 10pm, depending on how long the training day has been.  Phone calls, social media, and this blog have been the furthest thing from my mind.  In fact, I’ve gone this entire time without watching a minute of television.

For all of those wondering what it’s like to be here right now, words cannot describe the frequent rushes of adrenaline when called to perform drills or commands in front of your class while seated in state-of-the-art, million-dollar simulators.  Just know that it’s a safe environment filled with encouragement and support.  The long hours seem to fly by more quickly each day as you start to actually enjoy and look forward to all of the new material.  Lifelong friendships are most definitely being made, and stereotypes shattered.  We are treated extremely well by our loved ones at home, our classmates, our incredible instructors, and the company itself.  Our class has been surprised with smoothies, Krispy Kreme Donuts, Dunkin Donuts, fruit, pizza, dinners, and lots of candy.  Yesterday was Profit Sharing Day, where all of the current employees received a very healthy bonus percentage of their salary, as well as many other treats and surprises.  They felt bad for all of the trainees who wouldn’t yet be receiving these bonuses, so they threw a us a huge luncheon with music, a photo booth, catered food (including steak!), and free shirts.  It was quite surreal.  As I sat at my table, enjoying the amazing food and great company of my classmates, a friend of mine got up and brought me one of the pens that they were giving away to everyone.  When I looked at it, it had our recognizable logo along with the words, “Be different.”  I smiled, as I thought about everything that those words could mean, and have meant for me on my entire journey up to that point.  It applied to my choices, my friends, my opportunities, my classmates, and now this wonderfully unique company that saw something special in me.

In short, these first two weeks have been challenging, introspective, and wonderful.  I’ll write more when I have the chance…