The greatest privilege of being a flight attendant is crossing paths with passengers who completely transform your
Jon was born three months early and diagnosed with cerebral palsy. The doctors told his parents the deformation in his brain’s frontal lobe was such that he’d likely never be more than a vegetable.
They were wrong.
Jon rolled down the jetway in a motorized wheelchair that allowed him to stand upright, looking like Robert Downey Jr. in the movie Iron Man. His megawatt smile and larger-than-life personality amplified my superhero impression. When I asked where he was traveling, he told me he’d been selected as one of seventy college students nationwide to participate in a five-day leadership conference. He’d be giving several motivational speeches.
“I love talking. Put a tree in front of me, I’ll talk to it.” He laughed. “My plan, once I get my master’s, is to be a motivational speaker. I’ve already produced a few short films, and I’m writing a book.
“What’s it about?” I asked, thinking I had a fairly good idea.
“It’s about how the definition of happy is completely inaccurate,” he said, upending my presumption. “Happiness is not a single emotion. It’s the ability to appreciate all emotional states, learning and growing from both positive and negative experiences. People buy all these self-help books on how to be happy when what they need to do is engage the world around them. Happiness isn’t an adjective — it’s a verb.”
“Impressive wisdom coming from a college kid.” I winked.
“Well, I wasn’t always so smart.” He fidgeted with his cell phone. “In high school I got a little depressed, you know, focusing on all the stuff I couldn’t do. Fortunately, my mom is a very smart lady. She let me wallow in self-pity exactly three days. Then, we visited a kid born with my same condition. There I was staring into the eyes of a boy roughly my age, except he can’t move, can’t speak, can’t feed himself — nothing. He wasn’t as lucky as me!”
I nodded, digging my fingernails into my palms, trying in vain to keep the tears from pooling.
“Anyway, like I was saying,” he continued, “happiness boils down to how you choose to interact with the world. A perfect example of this occurred coming through security. When the TSA spoke to my travel assistant, their tone was totally normal. But when they turned to me, their voices shot up several decibels, addressing me like a kindergartener. Was I going to let that ruin my day? No way, Jose! I started joking around with them until they were clutching their bellies. By the time they were done, I’m pretty sure they saw me as someone who wasn’t all that different from them.”
He shrugged. “And that’s my secret to happiness: When others treat me with indifference or disrespect, I show only kindness. Most people are so accustomed to confrontation, they don’t even know how to process this. Then, something shifts, and their entire disposition changes. That’s super cool to watch.” His smile illuminated the cabin.
“You’d make a great flight attendant.”
His eyes lit up. “I’d even sing!”
💔 Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 💔
We will hold you in our hearts — always…