I was six years old at the time - with a head full of music from my favorite Japanese-anime shows and an English vocabulary consisting of one word that I picked up from watching Sesame Street ... yet I remembered the pre-flight safety briefing with unusual clarity.
After going over the locations of emergency exits, the flight attendent explained that in the event of cabin depressurization, oxygen masks would drop from the overhead compartments. Adults who are seated next a child should secure their own masks on before helping any children, we're told.
I remember thinking, in my frowning, six-year-old way: That doesn't sound fair! Grownups are so much stronger than kids. Shouldn't they help us first?
The briefing bothered me immensely, and I kept turning it over and over in my head, long after my parents fell asleep on the 10-hour flight. Why would the airline promote such grossly anti-children emergency procedures? Do airliners hate little kids?
Hours later - tired, but still trying to puzzle out the reasons for the adults-first rule, the realization finally hit me: If a grownup is trying to help a kid first without taking care of himself, the grownup might pass out in the process ... and then we would end up with two unconcious/dead passengers instead of just one.
Satisfied with my conclusion, I promptly dropped into a dreamless sleep.
Naturally, my little six-year-old brain didn't have the vocabulary to articulate those thoughts to that level of granularity, but the insight (in whatever form that six-year-olds think in) was unmistakable: You have to take care of yourself, before you are in the position to help others.
Revisiting the memory of that incident at age eight, ten, and now as an adult, added layers and depth of understanding to the raw, unparticulated thoughts of that six-year-old me on a Pan Am international flight, somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.
How often, we forget the importance of setting our own house in order before barging in to others' lives to 'fix' their problems. How absurd, our unsolicited advice to friends and family on matters that we have not set straight in our own lives.
And so my six-year-old self speaks to me to this day - "How can you presume to help others, when your own life is still in such disarray?"
To which I reply ... "I'm a work in progress. And I'm still trying. Don't give up on me yet, kid."