A Tale of Two Oxygen Masks

I have been riding in airplanes since I was a small child; at first it was under the eagle eyes of my parents, and when I was deemed old enough, I got to be my sister’s chaperone when it was just the two of us flying together between our home and our grandparents’. It was a big deal for me, because I was responsible for her well-being. (Teens are big into taking on responsibility, you know.) For that reason, the first thing I did was teach her how to read her ticket, and how to find her connecting flight. That way, even if we got *gasp!* separated, she’d be able to find her way around the airport and get to her flight. She picked it up in no time, and was an instant flying ace on her first try!

But that first time, when we got on the plane, and I was still feeling the full weight of my awesome responsibility, I realized that the boring safety speech I had always ignored before take-off was actually important. I needed to know what to do in case there was an emergency. I even made Squeaky pay attention, too, so that in case we got separated, she’d be able to take care of herself.

Pretty much once you’ve been on any plane ever, you know what the lecture will be:

Here’s how your seat belt works for those of you who have never before in your life used one, here’s where the floatation devices are (VERY useful when you’re flying to Chicago), here’s where the exits are, and here’s what to do when those ridiculous masks fall from the ceiling and slap you in the face. Stay seated until the captain says you can get up, because there might be turbulence that you, as a passenger, cannot see, and don’t freaking smoke in the middle of a sealed tin can. Drinks are $6. Soft drinks are free. Small electronics destroy our delicate navigation system, so don’t use them, because we don’t have enough fuel (or patience) to circle around until your battery runs out. On behalf of this top-heavy corporation who doesn’t really care, thank you for your money and have a nice flight. And now, tray up, bitches!

Of course, there’s the occasional snarky steward(ess) who gets tired of saying the same thing over and over, and embellishes things just a bit. I like those.

But back on point: the safety speech. One of the things that is always mentioned is that if you are traveling with a small child or other person who needs assistance, you are to place the oxygen mask over your own face first, before helping the other person.

I wish more people would pay attention to that bit. It’s really important. Not that I’ve ever, EVER been on a plane and had an oxygen mask fall from the ceiling and slap me in the face. Well, not literally, anyway. However, there are plenty of times every day that I am responsible for something. Sometimes it’s my job, sometimes the comfort and well-being of my family and dogs, sometimes I babysit. In each situation, though, one thing is constant: if I am not taken care of– physically, emotionally, mentally, whatever– then I am not able to offer the best of myself in my responsibilities. In fact, I am best able to take care of other things, when I feel cared for. Therefore, I consider it part of my responsibility to take excellent care of myself.

This concept is so foreign to so many of us. I have to admit, it was years– YEARS– after that first solo flight with Squeaky that I really got the importance. Honestly, it came to me in stages, because as Americans, it is just drilled into us from childhood: You are to take care of your brother/sister/mother/friend/classmate, and in return, someone else will take care of you. You know what? That simply isn’t true.

I’m not saying that everyone is in this life for themselves, because there are plenty of kind, generous, amazing people that give of themselves all the time. The difference is, the ones who are capable of giving regularly and continuously are the ones who give to themselves FIRST. The ones that don’t burn out, because they run out of energy. As Honey says, “I no longer have f–ks to give.”

But so many people balk at this idea of taking care of themselves first. “But, Bear,” they say. “That’s selfish. I am not a selfish person. I have kids and pets and a job and a lawn that keeps growing. I don’t have time for me, because these things are so important.”

I agree, those other things are important and deserve your attention. So let’s back up a bit. “That’s selfish, and I am not a selfish person.” Did you realize there are two different kinds of selfish? There’s the kind where you put your own mask on before you assist your traveling companion, and there’s the kind where you take all of the masks away from other people to make sure you have access to at least one.  The first is caring for yourself so that you can offer yourself back. It is a sacred Selfish, because ultimately it is for the betterment of yourself and all those around you. The second is taking away from everyone else to cater to your insecurities. That’s the base selfish.

There is a fine line, sometimes, between being selfish, being Selfish, and being a martyr, and as American who have been trained from an early age that we are not to be selfish (of any kind) the whole concept can be confusing sometimes. The question I usually ask myself is, “Who truly benefits from this?” If the answer is “Me! and only me,” then it’s probably the smaller s. If the answer is, “Them, but see how I’m a better person, because I let them have all the stuff, and I have none?” I’m being a martyr. But if the answer is, “I feel cared for, and I have enough left over inside me that I can share, so we all benefit here,” well, that’s the one I’m aiming for. No matter how busy you are. No matter how many kids, pets, jobs, whatevers you have. That sweet spot is the Sacred Selfish.

That is the person I want to be: the one so overflowing with good things that it is easy and joyous for me to share my time, energy, and love. And when people take on all of their important and beautiful responsibilities, I suspect that’s what they want to be, too. And it’s possible, too, with just a little bit of forethought and a little bit of time for yourself. (It really doesn’t take that long to put on an oxygen mask.) So buckle up your seat belt, always put your own mask on first, and tray up, bitches! Let’s have an awesome flight together.

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