Crossed Signals

“This feels edgy for me.” I hesitated and looked over at my seatmate on the flight to the West Coast. “Do you mind if I ask you something?”

She smiled at me. “Sure. Go ahead.”


She was a lovely, petite woman–about my age and quite open and outgoing. We had been engaged in a lively chat for the past 45 minutes, efficiently solving the world’s pressing problems. An engineer, she had related her passion for creating opportunities for other young women to enter and thrive in male-dominated professions. In turn, I told her about a counseling training I was headed to and mentioned that I was particularly interested in helping people heal from emotional trauma. So often, we are busy dealing with unfinished business—blocked energy—from unprocessed, unhealed trauma that gets retriggered in the present. Usually, we don’t even realize that we’re nursing old wounds. Over time, the heightened tension or stress becomes part of our baseline, our new normal.

That led her to talk about an event from her youth. While a teenager, she had been followed out of a store and attacked in her car in broad daylight by a man who had been eyeing her lasciviously while she stood in line. She was able to yell and put up enough of a fight that he got spooked and fled. She said that it had freaked her out at the time, but she was fine now. “I never really felt any lingering effects, besides being a bit more aware of my surroundings for awhile,” she said brightly.

“So, what is it you want to know?”

I took a sip of my Jack and ginger ale and looked at her. “This may sound funny, but I’ve noticed that you’re doing something I’ve rarely seen someone do on a plane. You’ve had your legs crossed the entire time you’ve been sitting down.”

She looked puzzled. “Oh, I always do that. I pretty much keep them crossed anytime I sit down. It’s just more comfortable.”

“Oh.” I looked at her again and nodded. “That may well be. It could just be a matter of physical position and body mechanics. Though I’m curious about how it’s more uncomfortable for you when they’re not crossed. What about it feels more uncomfortable?” I searched for the right words. “Knowing what I know about you now, I’m wondering—could it be that it feels a little more risky, more vulnerable to have them uncrossed?  If so, it could be that this is one way that some unprocessed pain from that event is still hanging on and manifesting in your life.”

She looked thoughtful and a little disoriented.  She said that she’d think about that. By this point, the lights of our destination were twinkling on the night horizon outside the window and, by tacit mutual agreement, we amicably retreated into our respective hopes and schemes for the weekend.

Do I think that her crossing her legs is a manifestation of some fear and guardedness from that event? I really don’t know. I suppose she could just as easily have been traumatized by an early scolding from her grandmother or Miss Manners.  But I’m really curious, and I think it’s always useful to ask why we do what we do. Our bodies and behaviors and habitual strategies are maps of our development and significant stops along the way.

Besides, I find that believing that everything we do is for a reason aligns well with the project of living intentionally. By becoming excellent students of ourselves, we can better understand how we landed in this moment as the interesting and complex beings that we are, and we can use that knowledge of our internal operating systems to be more effective in making changes going forward.