copyright © 2009 Betsy L. Angert. BeThink.org
On February 15th, Barry boarded the plane. He was deep in thought and noticed few of the people around him. The prior evening had been exceptional. This sensitive man celebrated Valentine's Day with friends, with family, and best of all with himself, a person he had grown to love and respect, an individual he barely knew for all of his life, himself.
More recently, Barry had become a more balanced individual. He is now constantly on the move, not merely in a physical sense, but in a more real manner. The successful businessman, the sensational father, the phenomenal friend, the scholar who climbed the career ladder well, in the not so distant past, never felt truly fulfilled. Now, he thought of himself as a work in progress, a being who has transitioned beyond his wildest dreams. Yet, he trusted there were still many roads to travel. He wondered; would he make it. On this day, unbeknownst to him, Barry would find his answer. Yet, he would also be prompted to ask more questions.
As he approached the plank, Barry became aware of those near him. He began to ponder the persons in his presence. He observed, in appearance, many of the passengers, were as he once was. Only two short years ago, he was among them. He was an obese American, one of the almost 90 million exceptionally overweight citizens. Then, when he thought of his weight, and all the ill effects his bulk caused he felt hopeless. Over time Barry has lost most of his bulge, today he again felt the pain of excessive pounds. The plane full of people was too heavy to fly out as scheduled. The weight of the aircraft dictated a necessary change.
The flight pattern would need to be altered. Customarily, jets left to the East. Aircraft passed over a power plant before the highest speed and preferred altitude was reached. As a precautionary measure, a plane as heavy as the one Barry now sat on could not be allowed to soar low over an electrical grid. Were the airbus to crash, surely, it would explode. Sparks would set off fires. Everyone on the plane would be killed. Over the intercom, the pilot proclaimed, excessive weight could be a deadly issue.
The crew and air traffic controllers would do what was needed to ensure safe travel. The plump passengers would not be publicly embarrassed. Nor would any commuter be forced to feel responsible for the situation. No one person or his or her poundage would be singled out. Politely, the pilot presented the problem and assured all abroad, he and the tower had taken great care to secure a suitable solution. The plane would take an alternative route over water, and all would be well.
Barry reflected on what the aviators feared might be the future of those persons anxious to depart from south Florida. He thought of how similar this situation was to his past. The once rotund man understood. In his own life, when he carried extra pounds, there was much he could not do safely. Then, just as he did now, Barry accepted what was an awkward truth.
In the initial moments, while on the taxiway, Barry was patient. He endured as he had for most of his years. Adjustments would be made. Hours later, he, and the others would move forward, albeit a little more slowly than they would have was the plane not redirected. Barry and the more bulbous passengers were comforted by the care and attention to detail. A safe runway for departure, given its current weight, was all those on the aircraft wanted.
Had the plane or more accurately the people on it, been a bit lighter the whole adjustment and delay would never have happened. Nonetheless, what was, was, and that was alright for those aboard this plane, or at least it had been
Nearly forty minutes earlier, the formerly corpulent Barry was among the hordes of people who boarded the aircraft. Barry noticed a family, or three persons familiar with each other, were as he once was. Each weighed over 275 pounds. He thought; "There but for the grace of G-d go I." Barry noticed others of various sizes and shapes, all large. Yet, he thought nothing of their conditions or circumstances at the time they entered the plane. He had other thoughts on his mind. He wanted to return home. Cuddle with the kitties. Clean his house, Prepare for a busy workweek. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were his only concern as the Valentine's Day holiday week ended.
The more he had learned to accept himself as a unique and complete person, the less he allowed food sand drink to be his distraction. He felt no need to dive into the free chips or cocktails the airlines offered. Barry realized other sought solace in these complimentary sweets.
People seemed pacified by food and the opportunity for greater folly. Funny, Barry thought, in the past, if a plane were stuck on the ground, during last night's Valentine's Day festivities, or on any other occasion he too would have ingested chocolates as he suspected most on this plane would do. On a day devoted to travel, as this one was, or on an evening dedicated to love, as last night was, Barry, his beloved, or the big woman who sat beside him on a 737, might have exchanged, "Sweets for the sweet."
Thoughts of his blood-sugar and the adult onset diabetes that became his life long ago would have been ignored. A meal, a chance to steal a bit of snack time, life might be an excuse to celebrate togetherness. One little innocent confection could do no harm.
Not too long ago, Barry may have sipped an alcoholic nectar with those he cares for and who are fond of him. Intoxicating beverages that build blubber certainly would have passed his lips. He might have believed as many he knows still do. People are less inhibited when drunk with delight. Intimacy is more possible when the fruit from the vine imbibed.
Many courses of flavorful fattening foods, a meal fit for royalty, surely would have graced a Valentine's Day table. Today, on his tray table, condiments would have collected. The best way to the heart is through the stomach. The airlines knew that. Perhaps, that is why the flight attendants walked through the cabin with baskets of peanuts and crackers. No one would be upset by the delay if hunger was staved. Surely, 24 months earlier, Barry would have been content to wait as long as the food kept coming. He too might not have thought of a potential crash or the hazards of a weighty plane.
Barry pondered. Possibly, for most of this crowd on the plane, his past habits were their present reality.
Up until recently, Barry believed the pounds poured on to him as if by osmosis. He did not deliberately seek out sweets, starches, or saturated fats. They found him. His refrigerator was full with what he saw in the markets. Grocery stores were stocked with gooey goodies. Restaurants served sumptuous delicacies. Friends and family feasted upon fodder, all of it filling. Wherever Barry went, it seemed he needed to only look at food, and the weight gain would follow.
Today, while on an airplane immobilized by the load it carried, he thought of his earlier bulk and that of others.
Barry empathized. He felt the pain of those who carry unwanted pounds. He understood the challenges. It is difficult to develop new habits or to think you can rise above the clouds when you are fat and forlorn. Barry recalled how he had accepted much that was dealt to him when he was flabby. What else could he do? Not long ago, his options were limited, or so he believed.
With much encouragement from the one he shared his Valentine's Day with this year, last year, and on the February 14th before that, he learned to believe in possibilities, in his own ability to eat, drink, and move through life differently. His best friend had also faced weighty issues in her lifetime. His life-partner's lengthy struggle with food, folly, and an inability to move forward was one he witnessed firsthand. Barry watched the woman he knew so well work through her inertia. She languished, anguished, and ultimately left her hefty sense of helplessness behind. Her efforts helped Barry to believe that his life could be better.
It was not so long ago, Barry began to exercise, to eat healthy foods, to free himself from the habits that hurt him. Were he a plane, in the past, Barry's weight would have grounded him.
Today, Barry knew he could not do as he had done years earlier. He would not stay motionless. Nor would he say nothing of the circumstances. He would not resign himself as the load of commuters had. He wondered whether his own history taught him that extra weight need not be a reality. A heavier load need not be a burden to be endured.
Unlike the 100 plus others, who seemed settled with the fact that they could not leave the ground, at least not for another two hours, Barry was not. Just as he had decided not to settle for a life in which he battled his bulge, Barry concluded he would speak to the Captain. He would ask the pilot to invite ten to fifteen passengers to leave the aircraft. If this number deplaned, the usual traffic pattern could be put in place. The persons who remained on the vehicle could travel safely and in a timely manner. Those who voluntarily exited would not only receive recompense, they would also be assured a safer travel on a lighter plane.
Once Barry voiced his willingness to make a change, to lighten the load, and to leave the aircraft, he was able to garner support from other travelers. The pleased pilot said he would return to the terminal and allow the few to exit. The crew was grateful for the diversion. They knew how the temperature and the tempers of those stuck on a plane, still, on the tarmac could rise. The persons who stayed on the plane were elated. Fat though most of these may have been, at least they would be able to move a bit more freely through the air with thanks to the benevolence of one who used to be as they were.
Barry pondered the parallels as he walked through the airport. He had hours to wander and muse as he waited for the next flight. Determined not to be idle; a circumstance he disdained since he lost his own excessive weight, Barry walked. As he strolled, he realized he would need to find nourishment. His breakfast would not hold him through the day and into the evening when he would again board a plane.
As he unsuccessfully searched for other than starchy, fatty, sugary foods in the airport, he became frustrated. Barry realized there was not a restaurant in the building that carried healthy victuals. He rented a handcart, placed his luggage on it, and briskly sauntered to another terminal. He had time. Besides, it was good to be able to move about and enjoy the sunlight.
As he ambled about, Barry thought of how obesity affects the life of a plane or person. He saw the many who sat stationary in the terminal. Most of these individuals were chubby just as those on the plane were. Barry realized he had been so concerned with his own weight issues he had not noticed what now seemed obvious. In America, overweight was the new normal. This point became more real as a security guard approached him.
The officer told Barry he appeared suspicious. Who was he to walk around the airport, to move about so freely? People did not do that, not today, and certainly not in a terminal. Barry shared the story of the plane too heavy to fly the normally prescribed route. He explained it would be hours before he could board the next flight. Barry said he last ate very early in the morning. He was desirous of fruit, or some healthy food to eat. The sentinel said, Barry was to do as the others, more weighty passengers had. Sit. Be still. Pack on the pounds. Build the bulge, and be satisfied with confections, soda filled with high fructose corn syrup, and starchy foods. The security guard assured Barry, there was no fresh produce to be had on the premises. "I have some Valentine's Day candy," the official said. "Here, have a piece." Barry smiled. He said, "No thank you." He walked on and wondered. When is weight an issue for an individual, a culture, a country, or better still, why is it not?
References for a weighty reality . . .