I used to be afraid of flying. I don’t know when it started. I didn’t fly that often as a child, in the seventies flying wasn’t what you would call affordable. It was considered a luxury and treated like a special occasion, complete with dress, tights and patent leather shoes.
My family is originally from Massachusetts, I grew up in a town called Duxbury, which is about an hour south of Boston. Back in the early seventies the cost of living began to drive people out of the area and my parents decided to relocate to Southern California because you didn’t need heating oil in the winter. I still find it ironic that Southern California was ever considered a bargain with our zero lot lines and astronomical taxes, who knew.
I imagine leaving friends and family behind was hard for my parents and probably one of the reasons we flew back to visit most summers. I vividly remember those flights, often taken on these huge white planes striped in red with the letters TWA on the tail. We flew on huge planes that served the entire passengers lunch buffet style (I kid you not) in the galley complete with a make-it-your-own sundae bar. Oh how I loved to fly.
My sister and I would fight over the window seat, which as the big sister usually won and then we would take tune narrating the entire flight on to a tape recorder that was equipped with a hand held mic. We would pretend we were newscasters travelling the globe describing to people what it was like to be 30,000 feet above the ground. The patterns of the earth with the green and gold grids fascinated me, from up above I thought the country looked like one gigantic puzzle. I stared out that window for hours.
Years later with a few more air miles under my belt and the new awareness of the possible airliner catastrophe something changed I became afraid of flying. I would often take red-eyes so I could take something to make the flight go by like a blur. I flew in thunderstorms and once thought the plane was going down when minutes from touching down at small snowy airport in Colorado the landing was aborted. We circled around and landed safely and then we were handed flashlights to find our luggage because moments before we hit the ground a car crashed into a light post wiping out the runway lights. Good times.
I flew with parents on vacations, often gripping the seat at the slightest bit of turbulence. I flew next to pilots who would explain every hiccups and roll I felt. I watched the movie Fearless repeatedly. I would listen to the pilots chat on the radio with my headsets which turned out to be unsettling when I overheard the conversation between the controllers and the pilot that they felt (as did all of us) the plane shudder whenever they tried to increase the speed. We never got back on that plane during our layover in Texas, thankfully.
Tired of feeling the nausea and anxiety of my preflight jitters. I began to look for help with my fear other than prescription meds. I’m one of those people who can’t take anything without feeling every side effect known as well as few others. Nothing seems to work. I am a smart person, I knew statistically everything points to my survival. I have my own version of faith but still that was not enough to override the feeling of impending doom that would begin at the very instant I made a plane reservation. I thought I had a handle on it and then 9/11 happened. My mom took flight 175 on 9/04/01, too close for comfort but thank God she flew that Tuesday. After 9/11 my son became very fearful of flying so now not only was I uneasy I now had a 4 year old that would require sedation just to get on a plane. Whew.
A few years passed and I watched an episode on Oprah that featured Eckart Tolle and his new book The Power of Now. I read the book and everything changed. I bought the audio version as well which I recommend because some of the ideas get so philosophical I have a hard time wrapping my head around it. I started to listen to the book WHILE i was flying and then one day I booked a flight and nothing. I felt nothing, no butterflies, no nerves, nothing. I could get my suitcase down without running to the bathroom it was a miracle. Basically Ekhart’s book was about staying present and not projecting your self backward or into the future. Eliminating the need to worry about something that hasn’t happened. As I would sit in my airplane seat I would look around me, am I falling out of the sky? Nope. Is my life in imminent danger at this very moment? Nope. Can I allow myself to just BE in the moment? Yes. Can I find peace in being in the moment? Absolutely. Since then I have never been fearful of flying in fact I ENJOY FLYING now.
Last week I boarded yet another transcontinental flight from LA to BOS. Boy how times have changed. I still like to dress up for my flight, even if it is a red-eye. You’ll see me in the security line next to the girl clutching her pillow in pajamas and crocs happily peeling of the jewelry, scarves and leather boots. As I checked in on instagram and foursquare I got a shout out from JetBlue wishing me great snacks & great TV on my flight.
As we took off I watched us rise above the bright glow of the LA basin, what an amazing sea of orange lights and grids. I positioned myself towards my travel companion Gina and immediately we launched into what became a 5 hour chat-a-thon. Every now and then we would try to close our eyes but we couldn’t. For me being on my usual window seat I couldn’t help but stare at the stars. When you are that high the stars encompass every inch of the sky even down to the edge of the horizon giving the sky a dome-like feel. I’m so thankful to have the peace of mind so I can enjoy moments like these.
Oblivious to anything else but the sheer enjoyment of her company time seemed to speed up and before I knew it daybreak. Flying does not ruin me for my entire trip anymore. However not sleeping the entire red-eye does. By the time we got to our hotel room I was willing to trade my luggage for a bed. I may be getting too old to pull all nighters.
I’m dedicating this post to my sister, today is her birthday! She and I have shared so many plane rides together and now that we have our own families and we travel apart more often than together we always get in a text or call wishing one another safe travels just because we know each other well and no matter how brave a face you put on it still feels comforting to hear those words.
Happy Birthday Les. Wishing you smooth air and safe travels wherever life takes you. Love you.