The stewardess was standing slightly behind the passenger as he towered over me in my aisle seat on the airplane to Dallas from San Francisco. He looked straight into my face and asked, “Would you change seats with me? I have the window seat?”
“No,” I replied. I had asked for an aisle seat and wanted to stay in it.
I stood up so he could cross to his seat. Passengers were crowding the aisles, searching for their own narrow spaces for the almost four hour flight.
Once seated, he turned to me and said to me and the stewardess who was hovering nearby, “They promised me an aisle seat.”
She shrugged. I sat back until he said,”I have an extreem case of claustaphobia. I sweat buckets and shake all over when I am in a window seat.”
“O. K.” I said, “You may have my aisle seat.” The notion of three and one half hours of his dripping sweat off his body onto mine elicited this response. I re-entered the aisle for the third time, he moved to the aisle, I took his wndow seat and he sat back down. Then he again turned to me, even though I had opened my book,which is airplane language for “Don’t taolk to me”.
He said, “I was caught in an avalanche in Utah, thought I was going to die, and only narrowly escpaced. I’ve been claustaphobic ever since. The last flight I was in a window seat I thought again I lmight die.”
I closed my book,put in the seat pocket, turned in his direction and asked,”Want to fix it?”
“Fix what?” His astonished expression was sort of endearing. I surpressed my irritation at having to give up my isle seat.
“Fix the fear which is causing the claustaphobia?”
Incredulous expression. “Uh, you know how to do that?….How could you possibly know how to do that?”
“Well, I do. It only takes 90 seconds.”
“Let’s do it.” His voice said, I don’t believe you. Not his words. His tone of voice.
So I guided him through the Big toe Exercise.” He was silent at the end, after admitting it worked. Another long pause.
Then he begins to tell me about being a ski instructor in Utah (where I have skied a lot) and then he begins to thank me over and over. At last to shut him up, I say, “Myabe we should fix the memory of the avalanche as well. The fear is gone, but you still have the memory.”
“Could you do that? I dream about it most nights, then can’t go back to sleep.”
So then I do a quick 6 step re-frame, and his face gets all rosy, where before his complexion had been gray, and he says, “That is amazing. How do you know all this?”
“I had some great teachers, and once you know how, it’s easy. You are a quick learner, and its fun to work with someone who can change so fast. Thank you for allowing me to practice.”
We exchnged names and phone numbers and e mail addresses, and talked of our jobs the remainder of the time. He is a salesman for an engineering firm and is flying back to North Carolina after visiitng his Father in Tiburon, California.
Once we land in Dallas i have a two hour layover so I go off to find a restaurant. i have dinner and find my gate for my New Orleans connection. Entering the waiting area, there my seat partner is, waiting for me.
I ask him about his flight, and he says he has time before it leaves, and he wants to talk some more. He has already phoned his girl friend and his mother to tell them he is no long claustaphobic and he is so full of excitement that he can hardly speak. We talk until his light is called, and my good deed of the day disappears to North Carolina.
You never know when you can practice magic.