By Kat Kinsman CNN - When I didn't get my cookie, I almost started crying. No, this didn't happen when I was 5, 10 or even 15 years old. It was this past Christmas on an airplane bound for my home in New York, and I'm pretty sure this is the most embarrassing sentence I have ever typed.
It's not as if I'm normally some sort of slavering baked goods fiend (though I do love those Biscoff on Delta. Pro tip: Ask for a lime wedge to squeeze on them) or an especially nervous air passenger. I fly frequently enough to earn medallion status, know all the tricks for zipping through security lines bearing various challenging food products and am rattled not by pockets of turbulence.
It's just that when I've been stripped of my possessions, my dignity and any semblance of personal space and then strapped in for a multihour spell in the world's most cramped and crappy bar car, the little niceties go a long way toward keeping me -- keeping everyone -- sane. Or at least what passes for sane at 30,000 feet above the Earth.
I smile at people a lot when I travel. It's not something I do on purpose, but it doesn't cost me anything, and even a flicker of civility can add a little light to the day of someone who's been screamed at, crashed into and generally treated as less than human by tired, frustrated and plain old nasty passengers. It feels good to do, and behaving like a kind, rational person has unintentionally paid off in room and cabin upgrades, free drinks and smiles back on days when I've found myself in need of such a thing.
A portion of the excess beaming also might be faking it till I make it. I'm not a nervous flier, but I am a generally anxious person prone to minor panic attacks -- especially when I'm moving heaven and Earth to get somewhere on time. I've worked intensively over the years to rein it in and take great pains not to let it bleed onto the people around me. Deep breathing helps, as do little rituals like perusing the newsstand, listening to a particular song or, if you're me, writing an honest to goodness pen and ink letter to a faraway friend while awaiting takeoff.
But the travel gods are not always smiling down upon us. The cab is late, there's an entire high school orchestra in the TSA line ahead of you, the magazine shop has yet to open for the day, and your headphones, pen and paper were accidentally packed in the bag you just checked.
On the day of my cookie downfall, my husband and I had been away from home for days, playing the part of the prodigal son and daughter-in-law at the holidays. His mother's health had been on the decline for a while, and we did our best to tend to her in the midst of mandatory holiday cheer. We were emotionally drained, physically spent, stressed from a sprint to the airport and a last-second quest for cheap rental car gas and, like every other human being traveling in the waning days of December, just needed the journey to come to a peaceful end.
After an exceptionally long and minimally addressed gate delay, we all gallumphed onto the plane, belted in and waited a goodly bit more. These things happen, and a lot of my fellow passengers seemed possessed of the notion that the planes are fueled by loud sighs, impatient groans and crabby cellphone conversations ("We're just STUCK at the gate. No, I don't know when. No, YOU tell them we're going to be late. FINE!").
My husband dozed and I tried to breathe deeply, not fixate on the strain of the previous few days or fret that the dog kennel would close before we could get home, and ignore the child rhythmically, ritualistically kicking the back of my seat. And I was really looking forward to that cookie; possibly even some manner of adult beverage as well.
For the last 30-odd years, I've seen the stock that passengers put into the inflight feeding ritual. Whether it's a scone with strawberries, clotted Devonshire cream and honest to goodness metal utensils on a short hop from Paris to London, or a lukewarm half-can of Diet Coke and .00006-ounce packet of pretzel dust, being given some manner of sustenance in the middle of captivity means an awful lot to people.
On a redeye flight to London in the late 1990s, I saw a 20-something woman mewl like an orphaned kitten when she realized she'd missed a midnight round of ice cream bars. I've witnessed grown men's rage as they realized the beverage cart did not contain their preferred brand of bourbon, and mixups surrounding specially ordered entrees have been met with McEnroe-level rage by people of all races, creeds and genders. People might just dig airline cuisine an awful lot, but I suspect it has an awful lot to do with maintaining some manner of control in the midst of chaos.
As my friend Chrissy says, "I always find it amusing watching the other people on the flight. When the service comes around, they act like they are being served their last snack ever." I'd never fussed all that much, but this time, that silly little cookie suddenly meant to world to me. And I wasn't