Friday, October 14, 2011

Assigned Seating

On a recent flight, I switched seats with someone on the plane. It didn't really matter to me where I sat, and it was a kind gesture on the other person's part to offer... I hesitated, but ultimately accepted, and therefore ended up someplace where I wasn't really supposed to be.

I sat next to a man who, admittedly, I was mildly annoyed by for a variety of reasons. He was loud. He was eating a cheeseburger that smelled horrible. He didn't shut down his computer and phone for so long that the flight attendant had to come and get ugly with him about it. He was one of those people that had a snide comment about everything. I popped my headphones in and stuffed my nose in my book to avoid any chit chatting in which, prior to that point, he had tried to engage me.

As the plane started to descend and I put my iPod away, he asked me about the book I was reading. It was Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. He had never heard of it, so I explained the central ideas and themes. I've read it before, it was part of the required reading for my yoga training, but I was reading it again. I'm not sure why, but I felt the need to explain this to him, too.

"I think my wife needs to read that," he said. Oh boy. So now you are going to complain to me about your wife?! Dude. You have no idea where my head is right now. You will regret that choice 'cause I will give you the what fors right here in first class.

"Actually, what I really wish is that my son had read it. He committed suicide on Father's Day." Oh. Oy. Ouch. I opted, at this point, instead, to give myself the what fors. I expressed my condolences and told him I can't imagine the depth of this sort of pain for him, his wife, everyone who held this young man close. I quickly made the connection regarding his comment about his wife and brought up mother's love and mother's guilt and how I could imagine that his wife was feeling as though part of her life's purpose was gone and that the search for new purpose at once with the search for relief from depression and despair must be overwhelming.

"It was our second," he replied. I looked at him for a moment, not clearly understanding what he meant. "Our other son had leukemia and died after a bone marrow transplant." I was stunned, but somehow found the phrase "survivor guilt" in my arsenal and asked him if the other son had suffered from it. And sure enough, the "it should have been me" was at the root of his other son's problems.

"It should not have been him," I said, "because it wasn't his curriculum. Just as it wasn't yours or your wife's. It wasn't your lesson to learn, but having lived through it, you learned what you were supposed to."

At that moment, the man in front of us, having heard just bits of our conversation, turned and asked me what kind of yoga I practice. The question, in the midst of the discussion of death and survivor guilt, seemed oddly yet perfectly timed. I shared. The man in front then informed me he was "a Bikram guy". We talked briefly about the peace that consistent practice brings and how a lack of practice is noticeable physically, mentally, emotionally.

"Tell me more about that," the man next to me said. And so I did. I encouraged him to try yoga and to seriously consider practicing yoga with his wife if she was open to it, even if it was to go to a studio and rest in child's pose for an hour. An escape. A focus. A place to just be... and just be together.

Who knows if he will or if he won't... but at least I know that as he walked off the plane and thanked me profusely for talking to him about life and yoga and the combination thereof, perhaps he had a new option that he might not have otherwise thought of; one more strategy at hand, one more chance to rebuild his body, refocus his mind, and reconnect with that which is most important for us all, and that which does, indeed, die last: hope.

And so, it seems, that even though I wasn't in my assigned seat that day, I was, in fact, exactly where I was supposed to be.