A couple of weeks ago, I took a nap less than 100 feet away from a dead body. I wore pantyhose while I did this. After I did that, I got up and handed out hard-boiled eggs, cheese and chocolate to 200 strangers at 4:30 in the morning. I’ll do the same thing the next week, but next month I don’t get to do that, because the reports say it’s not profitable to do that in September. That was how I spent my day, and I loved it. Of course, that isn’t the whole story. So what else was I doing, and why on earth would someone chose to engage in that sequence of activities? Surely a person who takes a nap in pantyhose next to a dead body must have something perilously wrong with them, right?
Well, not if you are a flight attendant. This was a true story of a sequence of events last week as I worked a flight home from Honolulu to Minneapolis St. Paul. The rest of the story is that we were transporting a soldier who had been found in a mass grave from a war in the South Pacific 100 years ago back to the United States for burial. This happens quite often, especially on flights out of Hawaii. Already, my initial statement makes much more sense, and I sound a little less crazy. We get crew rest breaks on longer flights in crew rest areas which are often in the belly of the airplane, of course separated by a wall from cargo that is being transported, and we simply don’t change out of our uniforms to rest for about an hour and a half, so I was wearing pantyhose while I did so. After my break, it came time for the pre-arrival service, which takes place at approximately 4:30am Central Standard Time.
As I laid in my crew bunk that night thinking about what I was actually doing, I chuckled. “This will sound ridiculous if I tell it to other people, I thought.” And so I did, and I was right. But as I told the story, I thought about the immense correlation to the field of counseling and therapy. Especially as the field of psychology and therapy seeks to extend its reach, and therapists and clients ultimately come from different backgrounds, therapists will hear things that often make us think for a moment “this couldn’t possibly be true.” But chances are, it is, or it is part of a larger story. Most people have no reason to lie, no reason to make things up. But it can be hard to hear, and we can get hung up on the details of the story, rather than hear the relevance for our clients. Fact check if you need to, but even this can be done in a way that is respectful of clients. If you doubt the relevance of a report such as “I was in the newspaper for x” you could state “I would love to see that! How amazing!” Retaining respect for our clients and believing their experiences is essential for the therapeutic relationship, or any relationship for that matter.
The human beings all around each one of us have wonderful stories to tell, full of details that might make us question the validity of them. But after traveling the world for 12 years I can tell you that while the details can be hard to wrap my head around sometimes, hearing the commonalities in our stories and being willing to put the details in context will bring you an understanding of those around you richer than you could ever believe. So next time you hear a story that you aren't sure is true, I hope you will think about turning your own thinking upside down and think: what don't I know about this story? What would help me find more context, and most of all, what is this person trying to tell me?
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