Before every plane ride, the cramped individuals of the cabin are always treated to the preflight safety instructions. They’re always the same; the flight attendant walks us through what to do and where to go in case of an emergency. If you’ve flown more than once, it’s more likely you will be fumbling with your tiny airplane pillow or an electronic device, rather than listening to this standard briefing. But I’ve chosen it as a blog topic for good reason. There is actually a really great bit of advice to be found, metaphorically, within the mundane instruction.
Included in preflight safety instructions is what to do if cabin pressure changes. When cabin pressure changes on an airline, it triggers the emergency oxygen masks to drop from overhead each passenger. The instructions given for what to do when the masks dropped always perplexed me when I was younger. The flight attendant tells the passengers that they must ‘first secure their own mask, before placing a mask on their child’.
I always used to think that seemed a bit selfish. I mean, isn’t the first instinct of a parent to run to the aid of their child, without regard for themselves? That seems right…save the child first.
Then, I had children. And now I see the wisdom in the words. I think it’s natural, especially for women, to forget your own needs. We get good at putting ourselves on the back burner for others. Anything else seems selfish. After all, taking time for yourself is frowned on, because the perception is that by making time for yourself, you are taking it away from someone else. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The reason the flight attendant insists on putting your mask on first is so you can take care of your child. Without that mask, and the oxygen it provides, you will lose consciousness while trying to help your child. The result is a child left without a parent to care for them, without protection, and in grave danger. The metaphor is pretty powerful; if you don’t take care of yourself, you cannot possibly hope to be present to truly provide the care those you love really need.
This week, the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died of drug overdose in his New York City apartment. Alone. On the bathroom floor. I can think of few, more sadly preventable ways to die. Police found 40 bags of heroine in his apartment, and he was found only because he failed to pick up his three young children as promised that day. Please don’t interpret any anger on my part as being aimed at Mr. Hoffman. I hate addiction, not the addicted. Mr. Hoffman, a beautiful, talented human being, filled with the same potentiality for life that every human being possesses, chose in a moment of emptiness to believe the lie of addiction. It is a lie which says that something other than living and being ever-present in your life is somehow better in a given moment. It says there is no truth in human pain and suffering, nothing to be learned. It insists pain simply be eradicated, even if only as a temporary reprieve. But in truth, addiction is pain. It is a thief that robs life and replaces it with more and more hollow emptiness. Numbness replaces presence. Game over…
Addiction allows us to play the victim. It hides the ability and free will of the human spirit which empower all good practice and positive thought. Addiction is the lie, because we are not victims to anything but our own minds. We live our choices. No one chooses to be an addict, but we do choose to do the things that set addiction in motion. Life is a powerful experience that merits responsibility for identifying what is best and discerning what is good and right in our lives. Life is precious and fragile…so respect the journey.
So please, listen to your flight attendant. Take care of yourself first. Feed yourself full to the top with good things, so you can be ready and able to be there for all those other human beings you love so much 🙂