The following was written on a recent flight as an anxiety coping strategy. Enjoy my emotional breakdown and enter at your own risk. You have been warned.
Flying is a neccessary means for some dreams. It’s also the source of terror in many of my dreams. Actually, the physical act of boarding a flight, strapping myself into a chair and pretending to read a book isn’t the terror source, it’s more my lack of control during a flight. I compensate by trying to read flight attendant body language to discern if I should be relaxed, absorbed in my book or alarmed, bracing for a crash.
Usually I can allow my mind to wander in pages, placing myself in the main character’s shoes for short periods. I welcome the reality break, especially when the plot draws from my imagination. Unfortunately, not all stories are best read on planes.
While living on Kodiak Island in Alaska several years back, I was flying to sans children and husband to Anchorage for a few days. A friend had gifted me a “mindless read,” a book that wouldn’t require overthinking or processing, to enjoy. After securing myself in the assigned seat, I opened the RomCom and dove into the first paragraph. It was a description of a wife’s grief after learning her husband’s plane had crashed. I still haven’t forgiven my friend.
I analyze plane crashes as a hobby and secretly forecast the opening segment of tomorrow’s Today Show based on my flight’s number. I imagine Matt Lauer greeting watchers with, “Good Morning. We have disturbing reports of the crash of Alaska Airlines flight 731 from Houston to Seattle somewhere over Wyoming. All 115 passengers are presumed dead. More now from Abigail Spencer.”
I scan my fellow passengers to see if the makeup would enhance the dramatic headlines, “An entire family of ten!” or maybe, “An entire soccer team!”
“Surely,” my neurotic brain reasons, “the passenger type influences the plane’s ability to remain airborne. The more sensational the passengers, the more likely the plane is to crash.” Because, obviously passenger details override aircraft physics and turbulence encounters….. I travel soon with 26 other members of my church to Costa Rica for our mission trip….. Someone may need to sedate me for the nonstop flight…..
Rationally, I understand where my fears orginate: foreboding joy. Yes, it’s true. I am a full-fledged, card-carrying joy-foreboder. I have to deep breathe and gently lead my thoughts from the gloom and doom into the joy and happiness of being alive and beginning a new adventure. Until we hit turbulence. Or the captain deems conditions unsafe to move about the cabin and has the flight attendants take their seats.
I once heard Bob Goff speak in California about a flight he experienced where the captain announced they’d be making an emergency landing. Bob said he looked around, realized he was in the emergency exit row and celebrated that HE would get to rip the door open and help passengers. He expressed complete enthusiasm about his predicament. He’s one of my heroes. He embraces joy, even in fearful situations. I want to be just like him when I grow up.
Finding joy, rather than pushing it away, is a practice I will continue to pursue. Perhaps if I can channel my inner emergency-exit-row-enthusiast and find the joy in my next flight, maybe my imagination’s headlines will read, “Church Mission Trip Complete Success” with subtitle, “Zero Fatalities.”
Hey, my fear healing is a process, so small steps.