When I was young I considered flying an air-sucking adventure to anticipate, sort of like Christmas but with jet engines involved. Of course back then I was in my invincible mode. My thoughts were rarely cautionary, but full-throttle daredevils compelling life to move faster. I was instant and active, my forehead straining against the plexiglas window, eager for a rivet-rattling launch, and then the steep climb through shadowy cloudscapes, where episodic flashbacks of Twilight Zone faces heightened the experience.
As an adult I prefer to leave the thrill of flying to the birds. As a matter of fact on my last trip to MA I became so thrilled (insert sarcastic tone) with the prospect of flying that I had what some might call a mini panic attack. Okay, so it wasn’t so mini. Anyway, I had just cleared security, and was putting my clothes back on, when I was overtaken with the feeling of being trapped inside the belly of the terminal much like Pinocchio being swallowed up by Monstro.
Fighting the sensation of suffocation, I put on my best independent traveler’s face and merged into the masses, the wheels of my oversized carry-on thump thumping across the tile floor, while internally lecturing myself: “You are not allowed to freak out in this airport! You’re fine. You can breathe. They pipe plenty of air into these places. Besides, how are you going to handle being trapped on a plane if you can’t even walk through this terminal?”
Of course mentioning being trapped on an airplane to myself was a gigantic mistake, although it did make the air in the terminal seem much more plentiful. My breathing had stabilized, but I became obsessed with the thought of suffocating on a crowded airplane. I located my gate, and tried distracting myself with IPhone games, but found it impossible to concentrate due to the vast crowd of people filling up the seats around me. Not just regular people, but beefy people bearing bulky bags of burdensome belongings, increasing the odds that our flight would relegate to a cruise due to the weight of the excessive cargo.
I could feel the fight or flight beneath my shirt…the onset of another attack, so I proceeded with more inner dialog: “Leah, no one has ever died from being on a crowded airplane. When everyone else starts to freak out then you have permission to freak out right along with them, but until then—GET A GRIP!
This one-sided pep talk made me feel a little bit better, but it was sitting at the gate better; I needed sitting on the airplane better. I needed something tangible to take my fear down another notch or two. I was contemplating the options of liquor, drugs, or phoning a friend, when the ticketing agent announced over the PA the availability of seats in business class being offered at a discounted rate. I had never flown business class before, and imagining the segregated spaciousness of it all; I bounded up to the ticket counter and paid the extra cash for the upgrade.
Enjoying early boarding privileges, I found my seat and hunkered down like Buddha in a bucket seat. My heart rate was undetectable and my breathing easy; traveling first class was a good choice. Hearing a bit of commotion I glanced over the top of my e-reader at a rumpled herd of pack-mules single filing past me toward the cheap-seat section. I was feeling grateful for my new station in life—I could get used to this kind of special treatment. Craning my neck to snag a guilty peek at the difference in seat size between the haves and have nots, I noticed a thin Gulag-grey curtain hanging between us, looking no better than a tired frock on laundry day. I was expecting a more substantial barrier between them and us…something solid and swanky. Big disappointment.
About an hour into the flight I began to fidget and lost interest in reading, so I turned my attention to the view. I observed a band of chubby little clouds passing over the green landscape, transforming the scene into a pastoral canvas of fleecy white sheep grazing in undisturbed serenity. This sight inspired a warm rush of security—a spiritual kept-ness, which could have only originated from the heart of love. In that instant I knew that I was totally safe—that nothing could ever truly harm me.
“Thou restorest my soul.”
At eight miles above the earth love found me and taught me that fear of flying was synonymous with fear of living, and that I was as safe on that airplane as I was on my own front porch. I also learned that there are many ways of taking care of myself— things that I might do to assist myself as I transition to a place where I’m calm enough to lean back and accept the daring confidence of the deeply loved.
So, here I am now with two happy feet on the ground and a fond memory of flying. I have no trips scheduled any time soon, but when I do, I intend to print this little ditty out and read it prior to boarding the airplane. Sure, there is always the minute chance that the plane could go down—lightening could strike, an aneurism could burst, but somehow love places these threats in the hazy distance, encouraging us to be bold and to move forward. And when our time does indeed come, love will be present to faithfully escort us to our succeeding destination (in first class of course).