Who's Your Air Traffic Controller?
The other morning I was watching a story on the news about a passenger who had to take over for his pilot midair after he suddenly became incapacitated. The young man had never flown a plane before, but luckily when he put on the headphones in the cockpit, an air traffic controller who also happened to be a flight instructor responded and navigated him to the closest airport.
When interviewed, the controller talked about how calm the young man remained throughout the flight, and why it was so important for him as the controller to remain calm as well. He said he didn’t want to freak the young man out, so he didn’t get panicky because he knew that if they both remained calm, they would be able to land the plane safely.
This story really struck me, for one because I’m sure if that had happened to me, I definitely would not have remained calm. But what stayed with me was how important it is for someone in a leadership position to be calm.
People pick up on energy. We all carry energy with us: it’s either frantic, frenetic, and anxious, or solid, calm, and centered. The energy you bring to a situation can make a tremendous difference, be it in your parenting, in your place of business, or in your everyday relationships. The tone you bring to your voice and your words is critical as well.
I was thinking about all of this as I watched the rest of the week’s news unfold. With each unfolding story, I must say I could feel my anxiety rising. Baby formula shortages have parents desperately scrambling to feed their babies. Gas prices are still at record highs. Inflation is as well. Food prices are rising by the day. The Senate failed to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, a bill aimed at preserving access to abortion rights nationwide, even though an overwhelming number of Americans support a women’s right to choose. Tragically, there were multiple mass shootings this weekend (when will this senseless violence end?).
And then there is the mental health epidemic that is wreaking havoc on our nation’s youth, and dare I add wreaking havoc on parents as well. Oh, and yes, Ukraine continues to fight, but I sense many are losing interest because they are overwhelmed by what’s on their own plates.
When the news feels so bleak, I look for the light. I look for something to raise me up. Enter my friend Bob!
Bob is my Transcendental Meditation teacher. Actually, he’s not just my teacher. He teaches thousands of others as well (he's even written a best-selling book, which you can find here). It’s his mission, his passion, and his purpose. Bob entered my life over a decade ago when I was anything but calm, and he gave me tools to navigate my way forward and find my way home to myself.
Bob came to dinner the other night. We hadn’t seen each other since the start of the pandemic. We got to talking about the tools we all need to navigate these uncertain times. Bob said that today, everyone has to have a stillness practice—a practice that can help them stay calm—because we are all living in a 24-hour cycle. Bob teaches healthcare workers, kids, victims of domestic violence, parents, political leaders, and others to find that stillness. He said those who have a toolbox are best suited to ride the waves that so many find themselves riding these days. He said it’s a choice that begins with us, and it begins by simply choosing to breathe. Yes. We’ve got to start with breathing.
Now I totally understand that breathing or meditating isn’t going to put food on the table or baby formula in your child's bottle, but it will help you deal with the rising tide of angst that all these stories produce within us. The truth is that today, we all need an air traffic controller of sorts. We need someone like Bob in our lives. Maybe we can even be that person in another person’s life. Right now, maybe there is a friend, a child, a co-worker, or a sibling who feels lost and like they are nosediving like that young man was in the plane. That young man had to climb into the pilot seat, put his hands on the wheel, put on the head set, and say, I’m lost, I have no idea where I am, and I need help. Then he had to breathe. He had to trust: trust that he was being led, and trust that he could listen and take the advice of a total stranger to bring him home.
Bob walked into my life at a time when I felt I was nosediving. I trusted him and others to guide me home. I knew that they knew more than I did, so I asked for help. I loosened my grip on the wheel, took a breath, and I flew home to myself.
So if the news of the day has you overwhelmed by the reality of life, if today has you squeezed at every angle…first, I am so sorry. If you are a parent struggling to find formula, see our piece below. If you are a woman struggling with depression, see our piece below. If you have a loved one struggling with mental health, please know there is help out there. Please breathe. If you feel like you are in a nosedive, it's critical that you reach out to someone for help. It's also important to know you are not alone. Because let's face it, millions feel this way right now.
There are Bobs out there, trust me. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is say, “I am lost, I don’t know where I am, I need help,” and then to trust that you will find your way.
But I believe that once we do, the guide will reveal themselves to us. The other day when I was sitting at my son’s college graduation, the president of the university said that when all is said and done, everything in life comes down to judgment and choices. Judgment and choices. Know that no matter where you find yourself at this moment in life, you can choose to look for the light. You can choose to breathe your way forward. You can choose to believe that there is someone out there willing to help you find your way to safety and home.
So may we all pick up the phone and/or answer it when someone we care about calls. Maybe we share what we have—be that knowledge, baby formula, or cash to help with groceries or gas. Every single one of us can be an air traffic controller of sorts.
Trust in the process. Breathe, my friends, and allow your teacher to appear.
PRAYER OF THE WEEK
Dear God, give me the strength to be calm, even in the face of stress or adversity. Help me remember that it all starts with me and that I have the power to be an "air traffic controller" and source of comfort for those around me. Amen.