A few days ago I had a very memorable experience. I was flying from Denver to Washington, DC for InspireMeToday.com business. I left my home around 4:30 am in order to make my early morning flight to the east coast. I am not a morning person by nature but I was excited about this trip and was up and ready early but still the morning seemed to slip away from me. We hurried to the airport and I got there with my carry-on luggage just as the place was about to board. My husband was boarding one plane, and I was on another, each flying away for a week and I was sleepy and bummed that we couldn’t be together.
We purchased my flight on-line about a week or so in advance. I was booked on an airline that I rarely fly, since their rate was the least expensive. And, rather than getting the business class upgrade using my frequent flyer points, I chose to be economical and just fly coach. After all, it was a short flight, right?
The flight was booked from Denver to DCA, Washington National, with a layover in Minneapolis. Upon arrival in MN I realized that although the plane I was on was continuing on to DC, I was booked on a flight to DC that left 3 hours later. I spoke with the gate agent to get on the continuation of the same flight, waited on the standby list and just missed staying on that flight- by one person. Determined to stay awake, I spent the layover time catching up on email at the airport. Yawning, I realized I’d already been up for more than 8 hours and it was barely noon.
At 1:10pm we boarded for our flight to DC. I was one of first to board and found my window seat, 17F. I was tired, sleepy, achy and wondered why I hadn’t upgraded my ticket. I just wanted to be in DC now, but we still had a 2-1/2 flight yet to go.
As I settled into my seat and opened my book, I heard a powerful, crying, screaming baby, getting louder and louder as the source got closer to me. It was one of those let-it-all-out-and-then-hold-your-breath kind of screams, complete with sobs on either side of it. I looked up to see a young mother and the screaming baby, and yes, you guessed it- they were headed right towards me. This is not what I wanted on this flight!
I’m a mom and I love kids, but right now it wasn’t about that. It was about me. I was sleepy. I was tired and I just wanted peace and quiet so I could relax and just wake up in DC. But it seemed the Universe had other ideas, as the young mother plopped the baby in the center seat and sat down, exhausted into the aisle seat. The child continued to cry loudly.
Everyone in the surrounding rows was looking at the mom, so she politely announced that the last flight “was like this the entire way”, that told us that “everyone on the plane hated me, and I know this flight is going to be the same”. She kept saying, “I know this flight will be a disaster too!” She was apologizing in advance for her child’s very strong verbal objection to being on this airplane. My brain was pounded with thoughts like- “Great, where are my headphones? How am I going to sleep through this? Isn’t there another seat on the plane? Is it too late to pay the extra fee and upgrade to first class? What about moving to the exit row?” It was all about me and how I was going to be comfortable because of this screaming baby.
And just that quick, a gentleman approached our row and took the center seat between us. I stopped feeling sorry for myself- realizing it could be even worse. I could have the center seat like this poor guy next to me and be right next to the exhausted mom and her squirmy, screaming baby.
The young woman, doing her best to quiet and comfort the little noisemaker, looked so tired and simply at her wits end dealing with her child. The baby kept stretching his body out, arching his back, wiggling and thrashing about, doing whatever he could to try to evade her grasp, all the time while crying and screaming loudly. He face was bright red, he had his own agenda and being quiet wasn’t on his list.
I was so tired and getting more frustrated by the minute. My mind was full of irrational questions like “why don’t mothers teach their kids to behave” to “why doesn’t she feed him something?” I was so stuck in “how am I going to deal with this for the entire flight” that I barely noticed the young woman. I’m not proud to say this, but in this situation this was all about me and how I was being inconvenienced. I was being a brat inside.
And then it hit me. Look at this woman! She’s simply exhausted from dealing with a squirming, crying baby, and trying her best to apologize to her fellow passengers. She’d already had to deal with this on the first flight and now it was happening again. And in that moment, she became a real person with a real life and real issues, not just an inconvenience in MY life. I asked myself, “How can I be of service to this woman” and I had the answer almost immediately as things shifted for me.
Apologizing to the man between us, I reached out to her across our middle passenger, touched her arm and asked if she was open to suggestions. She looked at me with pleading eyes and said, “Yes, anything!” I told her that rather than saying this flight was going to be a disaster, let’s hold the thought of a happy, peaceful, well-rested quiet baby.
I proceeded to tell her that I work a lot with essential oils used for all kinds of healing. I opened my purse and pulled out a small bottle of lavender oil. Known for it’s calming effects, lavender is a great aid to helping a little one fall asleep. I explained to her that I’ve used these oils for years, and that it couldn’t hurt her baby in any way. She was very open to trying anything, so I gave her some of the lavender oil. As her baby was still crying loudly and doing his best to get away from mom, she put a few drops right on his little chest and gave him her hand to smell. Within seconds of sniffing her hand, he looked at her with a startled yet quizzical “what’s that smell?” kind of look, and stopped crying. Immediately the entire plane seemed quiet, a sharp contrast to just moments before. Her child settled down and fell asleep within a minute or two- and peacefully slept in her arms for an hour and a half! The people in the surrounding area noticed the quiet almost as much as they had the noise and lowered their voices so we didn’t wake up the baby. The woman had the chance to close her eyes and catch her breath too. She later told me she wanted to know where she could buy this lavender oil by the bucket full!
Nearing the last leg of our flight the baby woke up. His mother and I talked for a bit about the lavender and how she to close her eyes too. I introduced myself to her, and she introduced herself (Rebecca) and her son (Hayden) to me. Hayden is a15 month-old, beautiful baby boy with big blue eyes and a dazzling smile. He and his mom were flying from Colorado Springs to DC so that Rebecca could attend her sister’s college graduation. I commented that she was brave to fly alone with such a handful.
Rebecca explained that her husband was in Iraq right now. Although he was home for Hayden’s birth, he’s been gone for 7 months now. She beamed when she shared her excitement that he was coming home for 18 days in only 3-1/2 weeks!
And I felt like pond scum. Here I am being tired, irritable and feeling sorry for myself because my sweetie was out of town for a week. I’m complaining to myself about 7 days, when she’s already gone more than 7 MONTHS alone, and after a brief 18-day visit, will do so again! I was disappointed with myself and vowed to focus on gratitude each and every moment instead of the issues of my own little world.
Here’s where it started to get interesting for me, but you’ll need a bit of background first to understand why. I was on this specific flight flying to DC to meet with folks at the Pentagon to discuss going back to Iraq. In 2006 I had the privilege of accompanying my daughter, then a recording artist in Nashville, on a 29-day tour of Iraq and 6 other countries in the Persian Gulf, as she entertained our troops.
On that trip, I was inspired by a young Marine named Jesse who had one simple request from me- he just wanted a “mom hug”. I met Jesse at a base called Al Q’aim, located just 6 miles from the Syrian border. Jesse’s job was to guard his stretch of desert- and he did so by living alone in a sandy ditch for 30-40 days at a time. Jesse shared this with me as an apology for his dirty appearance, explaining that he’d just arrived on the base and hadn’t showered in over a month. There are nearly 1000 other young men who also live this remote existence as a part of their daily responsibility. I don’t think I could live in my house for 30-40 days with no contact with other people, let alone in a ditch in the sand in Iraq! When I asked Jesse how he makes it through the time alone, he pulled out his iPod and shared with me that he was always looking for good inspiration. I felt like God just tapped me on the shoulder- big time, as I’d had the purchased the domain name for InspireMeToday.com in 2004 but hadn’t yet launched the site. From that moment, InspireMeToday.com was born, not only to provide quality inspiration for Jesse, but for the rest of the world as well.
As a thank you to the brave men and women that make America strong, and so that Jesse’s iPod is never hungry for content, InspireMeToday.com has given a FREE one-year Premier Membership to all active members of our US military so that Jesse can come in from the field, download inspiration and return to the field, and no longer be alone in his ditch. That vision keeps me going.
At this point in the flight I shared my experience in Iraq with Rebecca and thanked her for her sacrifice for all of us. I believe that the wives have the most difficult job. While I fully recognize and appreciate the sacrifices made by our troops, living everyday without your husband, raising the kids and holding down the fort while he’s gone, and all the while, fearing for his safety has to be a tough job. I’ve met thousands of women on bases throughout the US and have listened to their stories. From one mom with two sets of twins- one set born when he was deployed in Afghanistan and her second set when he was in Iraq, to the mom who hung a photo of dad in the baby’s carriage so that her child would know what Daddy looked like, to the welcome home celebration at Fort Polk where the troops didn’t arrive because they’d been unexpectedly redeployed, I’ve listened to these women- I empathize with them- I’ve cried with them. They have my undying support, respect and gratitude. To me, they epitomize the strength of America.
I’m not a military wife so I will never truly understand the life that Rebecca leads, but I can appreciate her sacrifice. I shared this with her and thanked her for her contribution to America. I shared with Rebecca how my daughter and I wrote a song from the perspective of a soldier’s wife, how that song took us to bases throughout the world, how we gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures and messages of love and support for our troops, and delivered the world’s longest letter of love and support to our troops- more than 18 MILES long. I shared that I was going to DC on this flight to talk about going back to entertain the troops, but this time with a group of Inspirational Luminaries from InspireMeToday.com.
Her eyes welled up with tears and she thanked me for what we’re doing for our troops. We had a playful argument on who was the most grateful for the other’s contribution. She believed that InspireMeToday.com will make a difference in the world, and specifically, in hers. To me, what I’m doing is miniscule compared to the daily sacrifice she’s giving! In those few moments of finding common ground, we bonded, woman-to-woman, sister-to-sister. I ended up holding Hayden for part of the flight so he could play with the window shade, up, down, smile, up, down, smile, up, down, smile… while Rebecca caught a few moments rest. We were all happy and content.
The entire energy on the plane changed and people were asking about the now quiet, happy baby, and talking with one another. I sat back and watched, almost analyzing, trying to determine what changed, until I realized it was ME! I changed! I took the time to realize that my world isn’t only about ME. It doesn’t matter if I’m tired, or stiff, or grumpy- it’s not just about me. It’s about being there for each other, not only in the good times when it’s easy, but also in the times when it’s difficult. And, it was only when I was ready to step out of my own stuff and ask, “What can I do to be of service to her?” that MY world shifted. I was energized in a way that a nap never would have accomplished. I was happy. I didn’t want to leave this “family” we had created. Rebecca and I hugged as we got off the plane and promised to keep in touch.
Is it a coincidence that I didn’t get the earlier flight, or that I didn’t upgrade to business class, or that a military wife not only sat next to me but also gave me an opportunity to be of service? I don’t think so. I’m grateful that I was paying attention and was willing to listen to that little voice inside that asked, “What can I do to be of service to HER?” She thinks I gave her something, when in fact, she reminded me of the real reason why I was going to DC in the first place. What a gift! Rebecca and Hayden set the stage in my mind for two days of meetings on how InspireMeToday.com can “be of service” to our troops. Thank you Rebecca and Hayden.
So the next time you’re stressed, over-worked, tired or just plain grumpy, look around you pick a person and put yourself out. Ask them, “What can I do to be of service to you?” While there are very worthy causes, you don’t have to wait until you have time to donate a day to a non-profit or travel to the far reaches of the globe to find a way to be of service. Your opportunity is waiting for you right where you are today. I believe the best thing we can do to help the troops, their families and the world at large is to create peace, and that begins with each of us in this very moment wherever we are reaching out with love to one another. Reach out and see how you can be of service today. Try it- I think you’ll be astounded with the results. Please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and share your personal story. I thank you in advance for trying it and look forward to sharing your experience with our readers.
With gratitude and hugs,