I recently traveled from Washington, DC to Brisbane, Australia, the farthest I’ve ever been from home. I crossed the international time zone and am now a day ahead of my family back home. Somehow it seems that I should be able to tell them the winning lottery numbers before they’ve been drawn, but I can’t quite figure out how to do it. I think it has something to do with Einstein’s relative space and time model.
Anyway, on this particular trip, I was once again reminded that while I can’t always control what happens, I can control my reaction to it – which, in theory means that I can have an impact on the world around me once I have an impact on myself.
When I boarded the flight from Los Angeles to Sydney, a young couple with a small child sat in front of me. Their child appeared to be about 18 months old. Typically, this is not a good sign for any of the people sitting within 6 rows because children are notorious for resisting the rules of air travel. But having children of my own, I know that kids will be kids even though we do our best to try to force them to conform to adult behavior.
Shortly into the flight, as I was trying to get a long overdue nap, this sweet, precious, satanic young child let out a piercing, shrill scream that would have shattered my water glass had it not been plastic. I peered over the seat and saw that the child was smiling. I immediately understood that this scream was a playful scream rather than an I-don’t-want-to-sit-in-my-seat-any-longer scream.
Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on which way you view it, this was a very happy child. And for the next 15 house, he shared his playful high-pitched scream with the rest of us about every two minutes as if he had some sort of internal timing device that could detect when we had just dropped off to sleep. His parents tried to impress upon him that this was not acceptable plane behavior. Being less than two years old, he did not understand their reasoning and continued to scream.
I was a bit irritated at first because I, just like the child, wanted to do my own thing – sleep. In other words, I, just like the child, expected the world to adjust to my plans rather than my having to adjust to the world’s plans. I, just like the child, didn’t understand that the universe does not revolve around me. In fact, I, just like the child, wanted to scream. But, as a 51-year-old man, I knew better than to scream, or play Words with Friends for that matter, on an airplane.
At about the 13-hour mark, an older woman finally leaned across two rows of people, looked at the father of this child and said, “Can’t you control that baby?”
He said, “We’re trying.”
You would think that after 13 hours, this older woman would have realized that the true answer was, “No.”
At that moment, an interesting shift occurred in my reaction. I became less irritated with the child and more irritated with the nagging older woman.
Upon further reflection, I determined that it was because she had the ability to control her behavior and the child did not. The world was giving her something she did not want. So instead of changing her reaction, she tried to change the world.
When we encounter stress, disappointment, discouragement, and all of those other curves that life throws us, we have to realize that we can’t control much of what happens to us. But we can control how we respond.
I arrived in Brisbane and after a great night’s sleep, I no longer thought about that screaming child on my flight. But I had to wonder if the elderly woman was still irritated. I bet she was. And I bet she’s told all her friends, “You should have heard that baby on my flight yesterday…”
Are you letting the world control your life experience or are you changing yourself to make your experiences in the world better?
Doing life well means figuring out how to make the best of every moment.
I’ve decided to travel with earplugs from now on. That way, I can sleep better and won’t have to put up with the sound of nagging uncontrollable adults.