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Do you know what it’s like to be on that last leg of a long journey? When you’ve forgotten how many flights and layovers you’ve had? All you know is that wherever you’re going, it is taking a really long time to get there? It’s always the very last, brief flight the gets me. Not the hefty, ten-hour one or the three-hour one after that, but the final one- or two-hour flight from Dallas to Nashville or from Atlanta to Nashville or, like yesterday, from Detroit to Nashville.
This Delta Detroit flight was a whopping one hour and eight minutes long, but before that flight was a 4.5-hour one and before that a 5-hour one and before, after and in between those was walking through terminals like a zombie looking for coffee and a grouping of chairs I could spread out on and contemplating asking a complete stranger what city, time zone and state I was in.
By the time I boarded my Detroit flight around 3pm, I had been flying traveling since 10pm the night before. I was in a state. Not only did I not want to talk to the people sitting on my right and my left, I didn’t want to look at them. I had no energy to acknowledge the existence of other humans. I was tired, I was hungry, I was achy and I refused to engage in the lighthearted attempts next to me to make conversation. I spent my hour and eight minutes with my eyes closed pretending to sleep and hating my life. If only the guys next to me knew how exhausted and ready to be home I was. I had been away for ten whole days.
When I don’t speak to those around me, I get very caught up in my own head. My problems become the worst problems anyone anywhere could ever have. I have the worst pain. I am the most tired. I’ve been traveling the most. I want others to know my story, but I do not want to hear theirs. So for one hour and eight minutes I blew up my tiredness and problems in my head until I was most certainly the one on that aircraft suffering the most and I believed everyone else should be catering to my needs and feeling sorry for me.
Because I refused to speak to the men next to me, I didn’t learn until we were landing that their exhaustion was actually worse than mine. The guy to my right had been flying for 23 hours (ten hours more than I had) and the guy to my left had been on the road for 18 days straight, was about to be home for two days, then hit the road again for another 18 days. Because I refused to speak to the guy on my left, I only overheard this information as he, without complaint, detailed it to another passenger. I only heard about the guy on my right who had been flying for 23 hours because he made a second attempt to engage me in conversation as we were landing, and I finally listened. He had come all the way from Manila, twice as far as I had come, and was in Nashville on business. This wasn’t even home yet for him.
This is what always gets me in trouble. I would rather sit and wallow in my pain than go out and listen to someone else’s story. As long as I don’t hear it, mine is worse, but every time I break out of the pity party—every time—I come out of myself, just far enough to get perspective on my “difficulties” and “hardships” that seem much less difficult and hard after I’ve listened. It’s not about comparing your problems with another’s; it’s about seeing yours in a different light, a more realistic and less doomsday shade of light. I wonder if the solution to our problems isn’t fixing them, but instead, is putting others’ stories before our own. I wonder how our perspectives would change if we began to listen less to the voices in our heads and more to the voices of the real people around us.