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  • Writer's picturePaula Wesselmann

Women of Pan American World Airways

March 8th is International Women's Day, and I thought of all the decades that have passed since the '50s and how they have affected women, society, and our way of life today. I am grateful to Pan American World Airways for employing me as a stewardess in the late '60s. They supported the image of strong, intelligent, dignified women whose beauty was not determined by religious or cultural differences but by their ability to respect and fulfill the requirements and excellence of Pan Am. The behavioral norms of the past defined a concept of adult responsibility. We were held accountable for our actions. Communication was paramount in all departments of Pan Am. A stewardess was responsible for making the passenger feel comfortable and special. It didn't matter if we had a difference of opinion; we used the art of listening and a voice of strength and reason when necessary. As I traveled the world, I learned about life and what I wanted to do, and who I wanted to become by observing cultural differences and listening to a point-of-view unlike my own. In Bangkok, Thailand, I discovered yin (female aspects, shady, cool) and yang (male aspects, sunny, hot) and how they are in each of us, ideally balanced, yet opposite and complementary. In New Deli, India, I was introduced to past lives and told the story of when I was an 8-year-old girl, fleeing for my life with my mother. We were packed together like sardines on a small boat on the open sea. Large waves spewed across me and knocked me into the water. I fought to stay afloat, to grab on to what I couldn't reach, and as the boat moved further away, I watched my mother let me go as my strength weakened and I sank beneath the sea. I cried as I owned this memory, and my fear of abandonment in this lifetime became clearer. Back in New York, a psychic told me to relive that past life, to fight back, take charge, and to pull myself out of the water. I did, and at that moment, I empowered myself as a woman. It doesn't matter your beliefs; there is always a message in words spoken if you're open to hearing them. Unlike the caste system of India, the class systems are open, occupation is not fixed at birth. We have the freedom to explore our lives, to create with knowledge and experience, to work toward a dream with hope, and the opportunity to achieve it is a priceless privilege.

I love America. I grew up where people are free to think and reason about important questions that affect our society. I don't want us to lose the gift of a good argument and persuasion. It is in our differences that we discover our uniqueness. Our strength lies in the questions we ask and what we do with the answers we find. If we make the difficult choice that demands more from us, the opportunity for a greater reward is within our grasp.

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