Thursday, July 3, 2008

How to Make the Hard Conversations a Little Bit Easier

Part 3 in a series about The Hard Conversations

I have a strange form of flying phobia. I am completely comfortable once I get on the plane. At that point, I relinquish all control, because there is really nothing else I can do, and trust in the force. But getting to the airport is fraught with opportunities for chaos.

I build in an extra hour of commuting time. I book a taxi the day before and then confirm it a half hour before it's due to arrive. I unplug appliances, give the stove knobs an extra twist to make sure they're really in the off-most position, check three more times to make sure I have my "government issued photo id," and then I pace.

Once I get to the airport I go right to security, no stops at Dunkin Donuts. I have my 3 oz. liquids in a baggie at the top of my pocket book, my lap top under my arm, and my shoes loosely tied so I can slip them off instantly. After I pass security, I go to my gate, sit in the chair closest to the gate, and wait, impatiently, with mounting anxiety.

Richard has the opposite tendencies. He likes to leave for the airport at the last minute. I actually think he enjoys the adrenaline rush that comes from zooming down the corridors, wheelie suitcase screeching behind, and making it through the gateway door with seconds to spare.

This week, Richard and I flew together. We arrived at the airport one and a quarter hours early (a compromise). I sat in my chair in the gate area, and Richard decided he would wander about to find something for lunch. He returned thirty minutes later to report that he had found a place that sold three bean chili and was considering heading back there to buy a bowl.

By this time, we were fifteen minutes away from boarding, and my anxiety and I were adamant that he shouldn't leave the gate area. I said, "Please just stay here. They might board early, and besides, I want to get on the plane first."

He responded with what sounded like, "Don't be silly."

I shifted a few degrees towards righteous anger. It's enough to just have this weird anxiety. I did not need to be belittled for it. I said, "Don't say that to me. I don't like the message or the tone."

I was about to continue, but Richard's expression suddenly changed. It started to resemble the face I often saw in the past when I was doubled over with uncontrollable pain, sobbing, making animal-like groans, and scratching my arms to distract me from the greater pain in my abdomen. That face said, "I don't understand what's going on, and I don't know what to do, and I'm a little bit afraid that you've gone somewhere I can't reach."

That face stopped me. I said, "What? Why the face? I'm just reacting with anger to your saying to me, 'don't be silly.'"

He started smiling and said, "I didn't say 'Don't be silly." I said, 'Three bean chili.'"

After a nano-second of silence I started laughing, hard. Richard began laughing with me. "Don't be silly - three bean chili," we chanted together.

I was still laughing when we missed the first boarding call.


How to have the hard conversations -- look for something to laugh at. If you can introduce even a slight smile into the mix, you break the constriction fear and anger create. And through that slim opening, a bit of light and the remembrance of love may enter.

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