I was standing at my "demo" position at midcabin with my seat belt extension in hand. A female voice came over the PA: "Ladies and gentlemen, if we can have your attention for just a minute," I held up the extension to demonstrate its proper fastening and unfastening. But my cohort didn't say what I expected her to say.
"We would like to congratulate one of our flight attendants, Beth. She is the one standing in the middle of the plane. She is our flight attendant of the month!" I wasn't. This was a joke we played on one another dozens of times. Everyone applauded.
Assuming she was done, I accepted the joke. I nodded my head, smiled, and said, "Thank you."
She wasn't done.
"Not only was she awarded that honor," my co-worker continued, "but Beth is a very special employee." Now she had everyone's attention. Men put down their papers, and women hushed their children. "Beth is out on parole for good behavior from the Arizona Women's Detention Center. Don't let her deny it. She has been doing a great job. Let's give her a big hand!"
The passengers broke into applause again. I felt my face turn red. She sounded so convincing I almost believed her, too. Now people were craning their necks to see me, the woman out on parole serving them drinks and peanuts at 32,000 feet. Throughout the flight people kept congratulating me, giving me advice, hugging me, and telling me how proud they were of me.
At first I tried to deny it, "She sure has a great sense of humor, doesn't she?" I said.
"Honey, don't deny it," one passenger, a woman, told me. "You should be proud of yourself."
I finally gave up. I decided that I had no choice but to suck it up, thank them, and be proud of the woman I had become. Besides, I would never see any of them again - or so I thought.
The following week, however, I was walking through the airport between flights when a couple ran up to me. They both looked excited. "We just want to say hi and thank you!" they said.
I didn't recognize them. "Hi," I replied, studying their faces.
"You probably don't recognize us," they continued. "We had you on our flight last week. We just want to tell you what an inspiration you were to us." The couple exchanged knowing glances.
"Inspiration?" I repeated.
"Oh, yes. We have a daughter about your age who is in a detention center. We told her all about you. Seeing you win awards and doing so well gives us a hope we didn't think possible."
The woman hugged me and kissed my cheek. Then her husband gave me a big bear hug.
What could I say? How could I smash their hopes for their child? Blushing, I said, "Thank you. I believe God only gives people as much as they can handle. Good luck to you and your daughter."
The couple thanked me again and ran off to catch their flight. I strolled off in a different direction. As I pulled my luggage through the airport, dodging hurried passengers, a rush of guilt overcame me. I felt like a liar, a false inspiration. Then I had an "Aha!" moment. Perhaps this had happened for a reason. I just hope that the next time I inspire someone there's a grain of truth involved.