for all the travel i’ve been doing lately i have certainly spent a lot of time up in the air.
when i was young my mother worked for a consulting group that shipped her to all parts of the country on weekends. the most brilliant aspect of her job was that i could almost always accompany her. as a result, i grew up feeling totally at ease with the concept of air travel.
there are over 7,000 aircraft in the air over the united states at any given time. that’s more than two million people floating above us every day.* pilots take off and land over and over and over, until it’s as natural a process as breathing. i’ve been flying my whole life without the smallest hint of fear, so why is it that i’ve suddenly turned into a nervous wreck with every bump?
i go out of my way to do everything i can to make myself comfortable on a flight. i wear leggings and carry a jacket. i always throw on thick warm socks once i get settled in, and i keep moisturizer at the ready to counter the drying effects of recycled air. instead of sodas i drink tomato or cranberry juice on top of plenty of water, and i always have a knitting project or something to read to pass the time.
all of these steps are powerless against the deep-seated fear that has recently thumped its way to the surface when we hit turbulence. it’s not that i’ve become the lady you don’t want to sit next to because she’s gripping the armrest and whispering prayers to herself, but i would be lying if i said i didn’t break into a cold, anxious sweat whenever i see the wings strained bending and flexing.
maybe it’s from watching lost. maybe it’s a control issue. or maybe it’s that, as we grow, we begin to understand just how ephemeral our lives truly are. how easily we can be snuffed out of existence.
we walk a tight rope between life and death everyday. it is the nature of our very presence, and it is why the chance we have at life is such a priceless gift. everyday we are born and everyday we are dying, it’s a truth that i never chose to acknowledge until it was thrust upon me, and now it has settled into parts of my life in unexpected ways. i don’t want spend my life playing it safe, hiding from shadows in my very own shadow, but at the same time i want to maintain a level of intelligent criticism for situations wrought with mortal consequence.
i spoke to a family friend; he’s retired air force and a current commercial pilot. he offered a lot of stories about flying, how bumps in the air are just like bumps on the water beneath a boat and how airplane wings can be stretched to almost 90 degrees in stress tests. but the most important thing he said to me was simply that it does not matter if you are up in the air or on the ground, “when it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go.”
and i think that’s true. after all, there are millions of people in the air everyday and almost all of them land safely on the ground. my mother would say, “when you let go of the control you gain the power.” flying isn’t an element of my life that is going away anytime soon, so there isn’t anything left to do but trust that there is a lot more left for me to do with my life.
safe travels to all, and keep yours healthy and long - opt for the pat down.