I was 18 the first time I flew. It was a cross country flight, from the southest to the west coast. I was nervous; I always feel nervousness at the unknown. But I breathed deeply, prayed fervently, and gripped the armrest as the plane accelerated and left the ground.
And I loved it. I loved soaring, I loved seeing first the tiny buildings and then the floor of clouds. I loved the shine of the sun andthe weightless feeling.
I flew several times that summer and the next. I flew a few times over the next several years.
And when I was 27, I flew to see my parents. It didn’t occur to me to be nervous by then. I reveled, got out my book, looked out the window, savored the tiny portion of Diet Coke I was offered. However, on the way home, something happened,.
It was late summer, and a hurrican e was approaching land. It did not hit my parents’ town. But it was close enough that terrible storms rolled in. And with them came terrible turbulence. Not just the kind that causes you to reach out and grab your errant peanuts. The kind that causes you to lose your stomach and gasp and watch the other passengers’ faces tighten with fear. And the lack of actual control i had over anything that did or did not happen in that metal tube became real.
And I no longer loved flying. That flight home made me fully aware of the danger and fear and pain and even death that could be suffered. And no matter how firmly the seatbelt was fastened and no matter how great a floatation device the seat might be, if the wind decided to toss the plan wildly into the sea, there would be nothing – nothing I could do to prevent the fall.
So flying became an object of fear rather than a way to soar. And I aovoided it.
Until I couldn’t.
Actually, that is not true. I stepped onto a plan a few months ago, and I felt panic close in. I began to sweat, my heart began to pound, and I stood in the aisle rallying the courage to flee the plane, to come up with some explanation as to why I wouldn’t be arriving at my destination after all.
“Are you going to sit?”
The slightly impatient man’s voice broke into my thoughts, and behind him stood a dozen more passengers. Getting off the plane would be a big show, an embarrassing scene. So I sat. I sweated and closed my eyes through the first takeoff. I managed to relax aqainst the seat for the second. For the third, I looked out the window. By the fourth, I barely noticed.
I am determined to love flying again. I will not allow one unepected episode of fear, helplessness, and stark understanding rob me of the experience of soaring.
I am not going to let any single experience of pain over which I had no control rob me of living.
I WILL learn again to love to fly.