Now that I’m older, I’ve decided to give my life the respect it deserves. By savoring each moment, the simple transforms into the extraordinary. Like when I’m listening to CBC radio in the kitchen and feel such a heady rush of joy, I know it’s impossible to feel any happier. That store of joy is tucked away inside me, ready to be released whenever I remember to access it.
Like what happened to me last night. I was half way home from New York on a stopover in Chicago when I experienced what I like to call a Junior High Moment. Those of you who drifted through the middle school years at the top of the social heap, please stop reading. You probably can’t identify with this story. You may laugh coldly, wishing you could do so while pointing at me in person. For the rest of you who understand the notion of humiliation, please read on.
Our flight was slightly delayed. When the time came to board, I was reading my kindle but got into line and reached the front quickly. The stewardess looked at my boarding pass and said into the PA, “We’re boarding the Gold Members. This is Number One Boarding Only.” Like a bouncer outside a popular club, she gave me a look that said volumes, adding, “Please step back.” I gazed around in my usual state of confusion. People looked away, in particular a man I’d been chatting with. He brushed right past me, eyes averted, as if I’d just peed on the floor. Obviously a Gold Member, a Number One Passenger. I hung around the back of the line, reading my kindle and not feeling too bad about it. After all, I booked through Expedia. What did I expect?
The second time, still engrossed in my book and waving my passport and boarding pass vaguely in the stewardess’s direction, I got almost the same answer, though she didn’t bother addressing me but spoke into the PA system saying, ‘This is a boarding call for Number Two Passengers Only!” I walked away. That was when I started to feel like I was back in junior high. This time I stayed in my chair as she went back to the microphone and called, “Members of the military, please board!” I’m not kidding.
Then, “The Number Three Passengers may board now.” She looked directly at me as she said it. Feeling like I was headed for Steerage on the Titanic, I passed her at a slow trot. She looked away politely, like I really had peed on the carpet. When I got on the plane the stewardess stared at my boarding pass before saying in a bored tone, “Please proceed to the back of the plane.”
Once happily seated, I began to read again. I didn’t bother listening to the safety directions. Hadn’t I heard them a thousand times? This turned out to be a mistake. The stewardess, once finished, came down the aisle and hollered, “Who knows how many exits there are? Who was listening?” We all looked around guiltily. Passengers started throwing out numbers, all of them wrong. I still can’t remember the correct answer.
The inquisition continued, “Who is seated by the exit? And what would you do for other passengers in an emergency?” We all looked around in genuine alarm. The woman across the aisle said fearfully, “I didn’t know we were going to be tested!” In that moment, I experienced a complete moment of joy. I may have been seated last, but no one in the classroom, er, the plane, was watching me scornfully. They weren’t looking at me at all. Instead, we were all watching the stewardess and the exit seat passengers in horrified fascination.
It occurred to me then that no one in junior high ever feels like a Gold Passenger, but more like the occupant of a lonely cell in steerage. At the age of twelve I saw gleeful vindictiveness where there was nothing but plain relief. It was not them being singled out for humiliation. They were not the ones who had tripped in the hallway, or farted audibly in class or forgot for the hundredth time to put their name at the top of a school paper. We were all klutzes and dodo brains, a club of the socially inept intimidated by a bouncer who existed only in our imaginations.
We never truly get out of Junior High, at least not until we’re much, much older. To graduate, we have to spend some time at the back of the plane. Be the last picked for Dodge Ball or the cautionary tale shared by a grateful other. Life has to drop us on our faces quite a few times to make its point. We can give in to humiliation by rolling over and pretending to be dead or jump up like a gymnast who just nailed an Olympic Gold landing. The next time you hear someone fart out loud in public, especially if they’re over fifty, give them a wink and a thumbs up. Chances are they’ll just grin. If they’re over sixty, offer them a high five. Then you know you’ve graduated for sure. And its all downhill, er, smooth sailing, from there.