Every time I go to New York City, a small part of me changes, wakes up. Putting distance between the city I now call home and where I physically am in the world changes my perspective. I can reflect more easily on what I’ve been doing back in LA, how I’ve been feeling and where I’d like things to go.
My time in NYC this past weekend was no different.
The morning of my flight out of LAX, I woke up 15 minutes before my 5am alarm. My brother texted me just minutes before. I opened it. I read the words: “Anthony Bourdain died.” I was blank reading those words, but then I ran to Twitter and clicked CNN’s story. It was true. Anthony Bourdain was dead. He committed suicide. He was found unresponsive by his best friend Eric Ripert.
I sobbed. I cried as though someone I had known personally died. Because I felt that I really did know Anthony. My brother and I spent hours watching No Reservations together. During college, I fantasized about interning for Anthony and how funny it would be—me, bubbly, bright-eyed, naive, versus Tony, gristly but lovable and smart beyond measure. Watching and thinking about Anthony and how he was exploring the world connecting with people got me through some of my own personal dark times. He made me optimistic that I, too, someday could experience something similar.
I woke up Zach with my sobs.
I finished up packing while choking back tears. I didn’t want to say goodbye to Zach that morning. The last thing I wanted to do was leave home. But it was for work, and I had to go.
As I stood in line to check in my bag, I cried and sniffled still, not caring what those around me thought. I stared outside and thought, “I could just not go. I could go back home right now.” But of course I didn’t. I stayed in line, I obediently checked in my bag and then made my way through security.
Once on the plane, I thought, “Finally. I can just cry and sleep and rest for the next five hours.” I always look forward to flights because it’s one of the few times I feel like I can disconnect from the world and my responsibilities and remember who I am, just me, by myself. My mind feels freer and doesn’t run on anyone else’s schedule up in the air.
As passengers piled in, the row next to me filled with three children, all under the age of five. Their father eventually sat with them and their mother sat in the row ahead of them with the baby of the family. Before taking off, the mother apologized to people looking at her as one of her sons shrieked. “I’m sorry, he can’t speak and that’s the way he communicates,” she said. My heart ached for her and for all parents who have to deal with everyone’s judgment on planes. I started crying again.
Soon, we were up in the air smoothly sailing along. I tried to watch Ratatouille, one of Zach’s favorite movies, but it made me too emotional, so I switched to something to which I had no emotional connection because I hadn’t yet seen it, Lady Bird. Just as Lady Bird was starting to fall for the lead actor in the musical, a hand at the end of a heavy arm fell into the aisle two rows up.
A woman slightly older than my own mother passed out and her two daughters panicked and searched for help. The Delta flight attendants rushed down the aisle, one in particular knowing exactly what to do. As the flight attendants brought an oxygen tank to her seat, one of the daughters repeated, “Mom? Mom? Mom, are you OK?” The staff asked if anyone on the flight was a doctor. The father of the children in the aisle next to me got up and walked to the woman’s side. As the woman came to, she was confused and incoherent at first. She improved once she had an oxygen mask on.
The flight attendant, Giovanni, stayed with her until she confirmed she was OK. He left her in the good hands of the doctor. They all concluded her blood sugar was low and she needed more water. Grapes and fluids in place, Giovanni continued handing out snacks.
He got to my seat and let out a sigh. I told him how brilliantly he handled the situation and how I’d been through something similar on a flight two years ago. He told me, “In training, they teach you: with the oxygen tank, turn left for life. All I was thinking was, ‘Left for life. Left for life.’”
I forced myself to eat a little something even though I was too upset to be hungry. I started to relax into the movie until it happened again.
The woman was limp in her seat. The doctor next to me shot out of his seat and violently shook her against her seat until she opened her eyes. In that moment, I truly feared the worst was happening and that everyone in this section of the plane would never forget the tragedy on this flight.
A second doctor from the Delta One cabin came to the woman’s side as well, and as she came to, the two doctors worked together to ensure she was OK. For two hours, they took her vitals, they stayed by her side, they watched her. The flight attendants brought out all the emergency medical equipment they had on the flight. At one point, Giovanni had the the doctors talk to the pilot. All I heard him say to the doctors was, “The pilot wants to talk to you because at first she was OK and now she’s not.”
I watched a family in pain and in fear, so close but also so none of my business. I don’t know how I could have helped, but I wish there was something I could have done. I’m thankful there was not only one doctor, but two doctors on board ready to do their jobs. The woman didn’t pass out again. We landed safely and medical assistance came to get take her off the plane. Actually, she walked herself off the plane to meet them.
The weight of the day never fully left, but I closed my eyes and slipped into a meditative state on the taxi ride to Times Square.
What occurred over the weekend was a stark contrast to Friday’s events. I was in NYC to support a client at Popsugar Play/Ground, an event that brings together women in celebration of health, wellness and confidence from the inside out. From celebrity speakers like Mindy Kaling and Tiffany Haddish to workouts led by Kayla Itsenes and beauty industry insight from Huda Kattan, it was one of the best conferences I’ve ever been to. And it’s not just because the talent was excellent and the booths were brilliantly interactive. It was because the intention was clear and the audience attending was tuned in and ready to learn.
On Sunday, as a part of an initiative for this client, I asked perfect strangers to tell me what promises they make themselves as a way to keep them mentally healthy and confident. The night before and the morning of the event, I’d gone over and over in my head how to broach such a personal topic with total strangers. I didn’t know if they’d go there, and I feared we’d have to scrap the idea altogether.
But woman after woman opened her heart to me. They said, “I love that question! Give me a minute to think about it and tell you.” And they did. And sometimes we worked through what they wanted to say together. After a group of three friends finished sharing their promises, we all “awwww-ed” and noted how awesome everyone’s statements were and how great it felt to share them.
I was truly touched and amazed that people were so willing to open up. Once one person shared her promise, another wanted to share hers, and so on. Speaking your truth into existence and actually saying it aloud is incredibly powerful. Everyone was buzzing when they shared, and when I read them back to the client, we all teared up and had goosebumps. They ranged from promising to "live life sunny side up" to "always promoting body confidence." Tiffany Haddish's speech earlier in the day even reflected these sentiments. She said that every day before she leaves the house, she says to herself aloud, "I love me and I approve of me."
When not working, I was with my best friend, my sister, my soul mate, Muffin. We’ve been best friends for 10 years. I look forward to every second I get to spend with her, and we made sure to see each other as much as possible over the weekend.
On Saturday, we had one of our classic afternoons out. We ate, we drank, we danced for hours. We cackled until we were doubled over.
Something that can happen with friendships as you age, especially when they’re long distance, is that when you’re together, you spend most of your time recapping the good old days. It is VERY necessary and extremely fun to recap, but what I love most about my friendship with Muffin is that we’re constantly creating new memories too. Saturday was one for the books.
Now, on a plane again heading back to LA, I look back on the last three days and the word that keeps coming back to me is connection. Real, human connection is what this life is about. Sharing your heart, opening up, sharing your darkness and your light and every shade in between and being there for others’ shades as well—connection works both ways. We’re here for a finite time, and now more than ever, I want to use my time to work on my connections with the people I love and be open and kind to those I don’t know (or know yet). I also want to work on the connection with my truest self and being a little kinder, gentler to her. Listen. Be patient.
I’m a little more awake now than I was on Friday leaving Los Angeles. I’m awake and ready to seize it all.
Ciao for now,