I edged into my seat aboard a recent flight home from a long work trip. I was pooped and looking forward to being quiet for a while, when I heard a loud cry from the seat behind me. I didn't look. I knew it was a tiny baby wanting to let Mom know she was upset! I smiled and settled into my seat, feeling fortunate I was near this "lucky baby."
A long time ago, I learned a life lesson from another crying baby that changed the way I view life--and all because of an almost ruined special evening.
"On This Planet" (aka The Lucky Baby Planet story) is the preface of my first book, Unlikely Teachers: Finding the HIdden Gifts in Daily Conflict. If you haven't read the story, I'd love to hear your thoughts. It's one of those life lessons that seems to show up at just the right time. This timely baby helped me turn a seemingly negative event into a positive one. And it was as simple as telling myself a new story.
On This Planet
If you don’t like what’s happening in your life, change your mind.
– The Dalai Lama
My husband Jim and I had planned a special dinner out. Our birthdays are just two weeks apart and we usually celebrate them together. We wanted the evening to be memorable so I made reservations at a restaurant we'd never visited but that had a reputation for exceptional food and elegant ambience.
The big night arrived. The evening was cold (we were born in January) but we were warm, convivial, looking good, and anticipating a new experience.
The hostess met us at the door, took our coats, and ushered us into the warm, candlelit dining room. She showed us to a lovely table for two and pulled out our chairs. It was perfect. But as I sat down, my ears were assaulted by the piercing cry of a baby at the table directly across the aisle. I turned and saw a party of five—the baby, two parents and two others. Mom tried tending to the crying infant, and the others looked embarrassed. My mood plummeted. I like children, especially babies, but not crying at the top of their lungs in a café de haute cuisine. I did not want to spend my evening and a pile of money being entertained by the wails of a howling infant.
I saw the birthday celebration in ruins, the serenity of a quiet, romantic evening drowned out by the din at the next table. I was beside myself—uncentered, judgmental, angry. I could not fathom how anyone could bring an infant to a place like this. What were they thinking? Had they no conception of dining etiquette? In my world, babies stay home when their parents go out for an elegant dinner. That's why we have babysitters.
The waitress came by and asked if we wanted a cocktail. We said we'd hold off a moment, we wanted to examine the menu. Jim and I stared at each other. Should we stay or go? We had been eagerly anticipating our date, the menu looked great, and we wanted to enjoy the wonderful evening we'd planned. But how could that happen in this suddenly changed atmosphere?
We talked about what to do. We knew if we stayed, we would have to make peace somehow with our surroundings. But was that possible? And if we left, we faced the inconvenience of finding a new place to eat, in the cold, without reservations. Our night out was heading downhill fast.
The baby quieted a little. The sharp screaming moderated to an unhappy whine. The waitress returned. Keeping our options open, we ordered a cocktail but no food. I was still thinking what a nightmare this was when Jim leaned over and quietly suggested we play a little game of “Let’s Pretend.”
Let's pretend we live on a planet, he said, where babies are honored, even revered, and considered extremely lucky. They are incredibly powerful beings and to be seated near one in a public place, especially on a big night out, is seen as a sign of immense good fortune. We were favored, chosen by fate to be seated within a few feet of this amazing being. On this planet we had the best table in the house, the envy of all.
And just like that we were suddenly on another planet and my attitude was transformed. I believed it, and it was true. The most extraordinary part of the transformation was that it took no time. I was on one planet, then I was on another, and it was a remarkable place—delightful, carefree, lovely. Why wouldn't I want to live here? It was so much more pleasant. I was so much more pleasant. It was as if I were the child, playing, discovering, fascinated with everything and everyone. Just like that we became the luckiest people in the room. We had been singled out for a year in which all our birthday wishes would come true.
We ordered dinner, soaking up the presence of the small creature across the way. We smiled at the child but were careful not to look over too often. Of course, on this planet the family was aware of the good omen they carried with them. Still, not wanting to make them uncomfortable, we would sneak a peak only now and then to marvel at our luckiness.
Appetizers arrived, and they were, of course, delicious. The baby settled down, making playful sounds and cooing with its mother. Entrées were graciously laid before us—wonderful. Dessert—enchanting. The evening was blissful, much better than anything we could have imagined. We were sad when the family left before we did, but we knew we had been painted with their baby's brush of happiness.
We wandered home, still delighting in the atmosphere of the Lucky Baby Planet and our remarkable good fortune in discovering it. Not surprisingly, we've had subsequent opportunities for more planetary adventures. Since then, we've visited the planet of the Lucky Traffic Jam, and the one where the 5 a.m. Crow Concert is about the best thing that could ever happen. Each time we find ourselves in the presence of young children in a public place, Jim and I remember to visit our Lucky Baby Planet and transform our surroundings.
The game of “Let’s Pretend” is a game we probably all played as children. I think we continue to play as adults—we just forget we’re playing. Whenever we use our imagination to turn a seemingly negative event into a positive one, we're playing. Sometimes we do the opposite, and turn what could be a lovely experience into a nightmare. That magical night, Jim and I simply decided to pretend on purpose and our world changed for the better. The stories that follow are about practicing the game more often and learning to play it at will.
What planet are you on? If something is bothering you, can you pretend that the irritation is a gift? What if it really is? The more I look for opportunities to enlarge my understanding of conflict, the more gifts I find hidden there.
Tell a brief story (below) about how you learned a life lesson that consistently turns a seemingly negative event into a positive one...