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Recombobulation, anyone?

Updated: Mar 25, 2023

I feel compelled to begin with a major disclaimer. I wrote this post on a plane at 11:30 last night after a couple of really busy days of travel. I fear that I may have strayed into slap-happy territory, so I hope that you’ll forgive me if the things that struck me as amusing last night fall completely flat in the light of day. In any case, I hope you find something of value here, ideally, along with something that makes you smile…even if you’re cringing at the same time. ;)

Here’s the story. I promise to keep it fairly brief.

On Monday, as I waited in line to go through airport security, I noticed a sign hanging over the area just past the x-ray machines. The sign said “Recombobulation Area.” Seriously. I’m not making this up. I’ve included a photo to prove it (which I’m praying isn’t some violation of TSA regulations… I did a tight crop in hopes that I'd be safe). The sign has probably been there for years, though I’d never noticed it before, likely because I’m far too discombobulated when exiting security to have the mental wherewithal to gather up all my junk AND read signage.

I have to tell you that I am immediately filled with glee at the thought of this sign, and I’ve taken great pleasure in imagining the meeting—perhaps one in a long series—that resulted in putting such a fantastic (made-up?) word on something that seems so “official.” I picture it having gone something like this…

Boss (in a very serious and commanding tone): "As you all know, we’re designating an area for travelers to put their shoes back on and repack all of their belongings after going through security. We need a sign hanging over it to alert passengers to its purpose. What should the sign say?"

I envision a bunch of employees offering up suggestions like, “Have a seat” or “Get it together here,” all of which the boss shoots down in frustration before exclaiming: "Come on now, team! We can do better than this! How about something with a little pizzazz? Maybe with a hint of whimsy? Something that will really grab peoples’ attention! Surely one of you can come up with something."

At this point, I see the bookish word-lover hiding in the back corner of the room timidly raise a hand and tentatively whisper “Recombobulation area?” more as a question than a suggestion. In response, the boss shouts “Perfect!” while extending a pointed finger high in the air (to signal “Eureka!”) and jumping onto the seat of the chair.

I should mention that I envision all of the characters in this scene as Muppets.

Why am I wasting both your time and mine telling this story? Most of all, I find the sign completely hilarious and want others to join in my amusement. Beyond that, I see three lessons here that may be worth sharing.

  1. My 18-year-old traveling companion (who happens to be related to me) astutely pointed out that the creators of the sign had missed a prime opportunity by failing to name it the “Recombobulation station.” So true. The lesson? Give yourself a few extra minutes to think things through before committing. And a little creativity never hurts.

  2. I’ve started to wonder exactly how long the sign has been there and how many times I’ve looked right past it without ever noticing. I wonder if other airports have identical signs that I’ve also ignored. Have I missed countless opportunities for mirth by not seeing what’s right in front of me? Of course I have, whether related to this particular signage or a million other things. And that’s something I’d like to work on.

  3. Most important, this sign reminds me how much I could use a recombobulation station of my own. Couldn’t you? How many times do we rush through the day feeling befuddled, perplexed, or flummoxed (all great words), not to mention overwhelmed and disoriented—essentially, discombobulated? The thought of having a place to regroup mentally, emotionally, and physically feels miraculous. I picture one of those machines you see in cartoons with a metal helmet and a dozen or more robotic arms… The Recombobulator 2020. As you sit in the seat, the metal helmet lowers onto your head and begins to sucks all the jumbled thoughts out of your mind, sorting them, and reinserting them into their new pristinely organized compartments in your brain. Meanwhile, the many robotic arms frantically tend to your every need... reorganizing your backpack or briefcase, getting the stain out of your coat, giving you a back rub, responding to a few emails on your behalf, and planning your dinner. After a minute, the helmet retracts, the machine gives your hair a quick touch up to eliminate any unfortunate helmet-head, and—poof!—you’re off and running, fully recombobulated in less than 90 seconds!

Wouldn’t that be amazing? If only it were that easy. Most times, slowing down long enough to get grounded and gather our thoughts feels impossible. But here’s the thing. We really do have our own recombobulators—our bodies. They tell us what we need when our minds deceive us. And it doesn’t take hours to get in touch with that insight. We can do it in less than a minute.

I’ll be the first to admit that this takes practice, especially for those of us who have lived in our heads for as long as we can remember. Luckily, there are really simple techniques that allow us to quickly connect our thoughts and emotions to the sensations in our bodies, including an informal mindfulness practice called STOP that I described in an earlier post. I am no mindfulness expert by any stretch of the imagination and I have found STOP—and a related mindfulness exercise called RAIN—to be immensely helpful. I highly recommend giving one or both a try.

Well, that’s all for today. I wish you all joy, laughter, and many moments of complete combobulation in the coming weeks. :)

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