Two weeks ago, I wrote you a letter sharing that I got on a plane knowing I had covid. I discovered that fact about a half hour before leaving for the plane, and I decided to fly.

I now regret that decision. I shouldn’t have flown, and I wish I hadn’t.

At the risk of centering myself too much, I want to share a few more things I’ve learned from this experience in the hopes that something here might support you, too.

One: Call-ins are a gift.

My decision had been weighing on me when I received a response to my last love letter calling me in. To not inappropriately filter it, I’ll share the whole thing (feel free to skim):

Hi Katherine — After reconsidering your recent e-news about your trip, I have an evolving response — which, of course, you are free to embrace, challenge, or ignore.

1.  You took a European vacation (privilege alert) in the middle of a global pandemic. Apparently you didn’t create a Covid Plan B, like buying travel insurance to cover the cost of getting stuck. Huh?

2.  Faced with “two shitty options” — one of which would have endangered your financial health, the other of which could have endangered the physical health of others — you chose the second option.

Really? What am I missing?

Side note: Everyone I know who contracted Covid in Europe — and tested positive before they came home — isolated over there. You’re the first I’ve heard about who knowingly got on a plane while infectious. Or maybe the others aren’t telling people …

3.  You describe your amazement at the lack of masking — why aren’t people protecting themselves? — while at the same time admitting that you put others at risk. This comes weirdly close to blaming the victim. Not your intention, but it reads that way. For someone who is in the self-awareness business, this is surprising and a little sad.

Which makes me wonder: What was your intention sharing this stuff? Did you show it to anyone before publishing it?

At some point, traveling with Covid will become normalized, like traveling with a cold or the flu. Not optimal for anyone, but people do it. However, I don’t think we’re there yet.

Have said all THAT (!), I hope your recovery is proceeding and you’re happy at home. And yeah, I still like you and appreciate your work.

Your friend,

AR

You know that sting when someone calls you in, and you know they’re right? That’s how I felt.

Many of these thoughts had been bubbling under the surface, but I hadn’t fully faced them until AR emailed. Sickness can make the brain cloudy. And so can unexamined regret.

I share this to say—

We’ll all need to call someone in at some point, and this can be scary.

We don’t know how the other person will react. We might feel unclear about whether we’re right. We might not want to risk a relationship.

Given how much I’ve learned from being called in and how much I’ve regretted not speaking up in the past, I encourage all of us to gather the courage.

The other person might get defensive, or they might learn a lot. I believe the risk is worth it.

Thank you, AR, for calling me in.

Here’s my main takeaway from AR’s email:

Two: I need to do more work on undoing my ableism.

Walking through the airport, I focused my attention on the masses of people who weren’t wearing masks.

At that moment, I thought less of the immuno-comprised folks who were wearing masks and needed to fly or the caretakers of immuno-compromised folks or of all of the immuno-compromised folks that the people who weren’t wearing masks would come into contact with.

I can rail against the airline companies and governments for removing restrictions and point the finger at all the people who don’t wear masks.

And the fact is: I chose to fly. And my actions probably made someone sick.

For many months, I’ve told my son that we still wear masks not because we’re that concerned about getting sick but because we don’t want to get others who are at higher risk than us sick.

And so, looking back on my decision  surprises me and shows that I still have a lot of work to do to undo my ableism.

Three: There is a big difference between shame and regret.

Since I came home, a couple of friends have told me: I don’t think you should feel shame about this.

But I don’t feel shame; I feel regret. And there’s a big difference.

Brené Brown defines shame as “an intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”

Regret, on the other hand, is a flavor of guilt, which Brown defines as: “an emotion that we experience when we fall short of our own expectations or standards. With guilt, our focus is on having done something wrong and on doing something to set things right, like apologizing or changing a behavior.”

Shame: “I am wrong.” Guilt/regret: “I did wrong.”

I’m sure you’ve heard people say: I don’t have any regrets.

But the reality is that regret is one of the most common human emotions. (I share a bit more about the four core types of regret that Dan Pink identified in his new book, The Power of Regret, here.)

When we stop pretending that we don’t have regrets and turn toward our regrets with love and kindness, our regrets can be some of our most important teachers. They can help us to choose a new way.

So, what will I do differently?

  1. I’ll test for covid as soon as I feel the least bit sick, even if I’m convinced it’s nothing.
  2. If I fly again (and that’s a big if), I’ll have a Plan B in case I get covid.
  3. I will not fly with covid.

And I’ll be continuing to learn about undoing ableism—in myself and systemically.

I am still learning through all this, and I welcome suggestions and feedback.

I hope something here was helpful, and I thank you for bearing witness to my grapplings. That means a lot.

Wishing you lots of learning—even/especially through the discomfort—and self-compassion.

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