I was lining up at the Denver airport in March, (known by locals to mean Denver Inconvenient Airport; more prosaically, it means Denver International Airport – DIA) looking for my boarding position on the Southwest flight to Milwaukee. Of course it was a business trip. Why else go to Milwaukee in March?
Not remembering to be alert to my surroundings to receive what can come my way when I am open, I remained absorbed in my needs. Having gotten up early, done my final packing, put out the trash and recycling bins, said my good-byes to my wife, Marcia, and son, Joshua, I got into my car for the hour and twenty minute drive to my familiar airport parking lot. Shuttle to DIA, TSA, train ride. Look for a seat in the waiting area with an outside view. Check emails and reading the Wall Street Journal I picked up from the driveway. (Photo in the reading loft at home.)
As I board, I find an aisle seat. Tall guy with earbuds in place in the middle seat. I fuss with my things, putting everything in their usual places before taking my seat. Uh-oh, It appears that I am seated next to an armrest hog. He firmly has the whole thing. I need to twist myself in my seat to find a way that the long arms attached to my 6’ 4” frame won’t poke this self-centered guy in the ribs and cause some sort of a two-hour kerfuffle. And he is successfully ignoring me by concentrating on what he is listening to.
Is this going to define my trip? The answer to that questions depends upon me, not him.
BTW, Will, when are you going to get to the part about your son? Be patient. Soon. All of this is important…:).
It takes me while to remember that this “resolution” is up to me, not him. And if something between me and another person needs to be remedied or fixed or solved or whatever, it is never up to them. If I want something to work rather than simply have the shallow “victory” of being right, it is always on me. I have to decide which result I want. Make it work, or be right. Can’t do both.
After twenty or so minutes of being uncomfortable while feeling put upon and, well, a little superior, “Hey, I wouldn’t do that, would I?” I asked/told myself. And I became increasingly certain that this character was like this everywhere in his life. Self-centered. Uncaring. A jerk.
Then a moment of maturity struck. What would happen if I made some sort of contact with him? Can’t hurt. But how? Mr. Arms Akimbo is assiduously avoiding even glancing to either side. I don’t remember exactly how it started; no matter, there is alway a way to get a conversation started. Wait for any pause in what they are doing, and remember that people love to talk about themselves. Start there.
He took out his earbuds and opened his Kindle. “What are you reading?” I asked. He was happy to tell me all about the book and how it was written by one of his favorite authors. From time-to-time, I would say something like, “Oh?” or “Really?” or “Sounds fascinating.” And the more he talked, the more he liked me. Because I was listening. Magically, Dave (we exchanged names about then) made the armrest shareable.
The conversation soon touched on jobs, home locations, and family. When it got to family, the subject narrowed down to difficult teens (is that redundant?). I expressed concerns about 15-year-old Joshua’s lack of any type of academic goals going way back, continuing on in his Sophomore year in high school. I added that when he finds things he likes or areas where he wants to succeed, he has the discipline to genuinely commit. I pointed out his outstanding reading habits; Joshua reads excellent books, often more than once to get the author’s meaning. He is able to absorb new concepts from his reading and apply them to other situations. And starting over a year ago, he committed–for the first time–to his athletics. Both in football as a strong side tackle and a heavyweight wrestler. His new eating and workout habits allowed him to drop from 275 to 240 while gaining major muscle. And he simply won’t miss a practice. After football comes wrestling–no break. During wrestling, he is up at 4:30 AM many Saturdays for months in a row for me to drop him off at the bus pickup for that day’s meet. Then to wrestle six matches in an eight-hour day. Because he is relatively new to football, and this was his first year wrestling, I continued, he could not rely on success for motivation. His motivation clearly came from internal strength.
“I’m not worried about your son.”, said Dave. “It is unusual for a boy of his age to commit to much of anything, much less in the way your son can completely dive in. That will serve him well in life.”
I knew that I was hearing the truth. A truth that I needed to hear. I shared this story with both Marcia and Joshua when I returned home. And I am delighted to be able to share it with you.
Will Luden, writing from my home office at 7,200’ in Colorado Springs.
Bonus thought: Relationships, brief ones on an airplane or lasting ones in a family, are not 50/50, not even 75/75; they are 100/100. Each person must be 100% responsible. More in a later blog.
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