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Parry's Lock-Down Theory of Relativity

Updated: Mar 2, 2023

My usual spot in the Delta Lounge in the International Terminal in Atlanta, where they know my name (and drink).

Sometime towards the end of February 2020 I checked into a flight from Paris to Chicago at CDG airport. They changed the plane at the last minute and couldn’t honour my first-class upgrade. I was stressed out, exhausted and at my absolute limit of juggling work, travel and life. I had been looking forward to relaxing and sleeping on the long flight before another work and travel marathon began once I landed. The thought of sitting upright in economy, squished up against other people, with kids screaming around me for 10 hrs was too much. I kicked up a fuss, demanded to see the manager and was rude to the check-in staff. I didn’t get the upgrade in the end and felt sore about it for days and complained to anyone who would listen. Shortly thereafter, the world began to shut down because of COVID-19 and I scrambled to get on a flight, any flight, back to my family in London.

Now, just 4 months later, I reflect back on this incident with shame and some confusion. How could that have been me at the check-in desk so irate about something so unimportant when just a few weeks later I would yearn for something ostensibly as simple as walking to the local store for eggs or sharing a glass of wine with my best friend? How could I have been so rude to the staff when I, in my early life, held several service jobs where others were horribly rude to me?

Thus, my friends, during this lock-down I am learning about relativity. Google defines relativity as “the absence of standards of absolute and universal application.” So, we all create our own relative emotional scales based on our immediate experiences within our environment and adjust quickly to a new norm as our environment changes; it's a clever evolutionary process that makes sense for adaptation. When my 5-year-old tells me, in tears, that this is ‘the worst day of his life’ when I refuse to give him ice-cream, it may well be, given his relatively narrow experience with being denied things. When the rest of us gawp at the Kardashians' seemingly detached world views, it’s because their scale is astronomically different from ours, but it doesn’t that mean they (or my 5-year-old) don’t feel the full spectrum of emotions that the rest of us do. So goes the age old saying that money doesn’t buy happiness. Good to know, right? Feelings of loss, despair and unfairness are just as intense for everyone, but the same event can be processed in profoundly different ways by different people.

So, what to do with this realization? Is there a way to recalibrate our scales and be happy with what we have? People talk about how important it is to be grounded and stay 'Jenny from the block' so to speak, but I'm not convinced it's that easy. I clearly remember the three, soul crushing, jobs I had as a student, just to survive in London, that afforded me time between midnight and 7am to study. Luxury was not even on my radar then, but was I unhappier than I am now? (Start cliché {Answer is no, they were the best years of my life} End cliché). Did the memories accounting for every penny, so I could eat Raman for years of my life, even cross my mind when, during an infamous ski trip a few years ago, I demanded to drink nothing but champagne (a bad idea on many counts) like it was the most normal thing for me?

George Orwell and Jack London both wrote memoirs about times they spent in abject poverty when they intentionally moved to impoverished parts of London and Paris and lived as paupers (London – People of the Abyss and Orwell – Down and out in London and Paris). These memoirs were hugely influential in drawing attention to the suffering of poor people at the time but did they help London and Orwell be happier with their lot once they settled back to their real and privileged lives? Is it actually possible to transcend the biological mood scale that adapts itself to our lifestyles? Well I have not figured this out yet friends, but I'm thinking about it.

Let me revisit this blog post when life goes back to normal and I am hopping around the world stressed and exhausted again. Will I lose my mind when I am not upgraded or will I remember how bad life was during lock down, maintain my humility and be happy with an economy seat? Results to be determined, I will report back.


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