Seven years ago on Christmas Day, I was stuck in LAX for twelve hours. There were delays, cancellations, and more delays. Before I knew it, I spent the entire day at the airport.
As the hours passed, my mood progressed from bad to pissy. It was so unfair that I had to waste my Christmas day away from my husband and family. The Christmas music was grating to my ears. The carpet was fugly. Everyone was annoying and gawwwwwd, the children were loud. Just leave me alone, people, don’t you know I’m being wrongly held here in this gross airport?
About six hours into the ordeal, I was in a very long line preparing to be rude to a frazzled ticketing agent. The tall man behind me started talking in a way that meant he wanted to engage the people around. I thought, oh hellz no, there is NO way I’m going to talk to him. Doesn’t he know life is unfair and I’m pissy?
But then something switched in me and I turned to face him. I was going to talk to a stranger, you guys. *GASP!*
Along with a few others in line, we chatted about where we were supposed to be. The tall man listened to our woe-is-me’s and when asked where he was supposed to be, he dropped this one on us: he was wrongly incarcerated for 27 years and this was his first Christmas out. He was going to see his son, Nick, and spend Christmas with him for the first time since Nick was 4-years-old. Nick was now 31.
His name was Frank O’Connell and he was sentenced to life in prison for a murder he did not commit in 1984. He fought for decades to be exonerated, and finally after 27 years, 27 Christmas days, he was free.
He told the small group gathered around him that he feels no anger about what happened to him. He forgave everyone involved long ago since he didn’t want to carry that energy. “It was too heavy, there was no need to let it weigh me down,” he said.
Now THAT is a problem, THAT is a delay in plans, THAT is unfair. What was happening to me was nothing. So I was stuck in an airport, was that really a problem? I was free, I was safe, I would be going home, but I was angry. And here was a man who lost 27 years and the chance to raise his son, but he was not angry. He could have been bitter and pissy but he didn’t want to lose the rest of his life to that energy.
Everyone who heard Frank’s story shifted and the entire airport felt our shift. Suddenly the Christmas music was beautiful and uplifting. I saw friendly faces and cute kids running happily around me. The carpet was actually pleasantly retro.
We moved through the slow ticketing line, desperate for Frank’s story and his joyful energy. I was disappointed when it was my turn, but now I was not rude to the frazzled ticketing agent. I was light, I was joyful, I was free from anger.
Frank went to a different gate but I maintained my shift and over the next six hours, an airport family formed. We chatted and laughed, we sat on the retro carpet and shared food, we were perfectly content to spend Christmas Day in the airport with our new family. And when I finally got on my flight home, they gave out free wine. Hallelujah heard on high!!
To Frank, thank you for one of the best Christmas days I’ve ever had. Know that people who heard your story seven years ago remember you and your energy. Know that you single-handily changed a bad day to a fantastic one for those who dared to talk to a stranger. Know that you are a pure example of the power of mental choice.
To everyone else, Merry Christmas, happy holidays, happy life. If your day doesn’t go exactly as planned, remember we can all be Frank. Your mental outlook is a choice and the most powerful tool you have in life. It holds the key to whether you have pissy day or a life-altering day while stuck in the airport. Friendly faces are always waiting for us to turn around and chat. The music is always waiting for us to listen. A happy life is always waiting for us to start living.
THINGS THEY FORGOT TO MENTION:
The energy you carry is optional. If it’s too heavy, put it down and pick up something light. And frankly, to be frank, just be Frank and choose to be mentally free.