The Self, Cared For

There are many things to love about airplanes.

One of the things I love most is when we’re taxiing around on the tarmac and the flight attendants are reciting that well-memorized script of what to do in the event of an emergency. Oxygen masks will drop down from the ceiling, they say. And then:

“Always put your own oxygen mask on first before assisting others.”

And I love it because it’s this unsentimental reminder that we can’t care for others if we don’t care for ourselves first.

I’m of the school of thought that one of our most neglected responsibilities as people is knowing what our oxygen mask is. Those things that we need to give ourselves everyday so we can give of ourselves to the day.

I made a list once: walking in the morning, seven hours of sleep (though eight’s ideal), a little meditation. If I give myself that, I’m breathing easy.

And if I don’t, I listen poorly, want more attention, get easily bothered, don’t stand a chance of oxygenating others. Which is all on me. Because it’s not enough to know what our oxygen mask is. We also have to protect it – against everything else that wants our time or our own resistance to giving ourselves the time.

It’s not because we’re worth it, though we are. Or we deserve it, though we do. It’s more primal than that. We need it. Like food and water and a heart that beats.

So, here’s to a life lived with care. For flight attendants and fellow travelers and first, ourselves.

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