I’m preparing to take flight, both literally and perhaps metaphorically, when I head off to a conference several hundred miles from home day after tomorrow. Because I work full time and travel by either car or train would be both inconvenient and slow, I’m left facing one of my worst fears….flying! I’m not so immobilized by the experience that I can’t do it; indeed, if I want to get some place badly enough, I’ll readily (if not happily) book a flight. But I tend to have both Dramamine and prayers at the ready, and am always flashing a much bigger smile at the end of the flight than at the beginning.
Perhaps I started flying too late; I didn’t board my first plane until spring break of my freshman year in college. I was flying to the Midwest with a good friend to meet her family and savor farm life for a few days, and–being moderately neurotic even then–was nervous. This was only compounded when my always helpful pal looked out the plane’s window in flight, did a double take, and then looked at me, eyes wide, and announced that she’d seen a small hairy creature tinkering with the plane’s wing. Yes, it was the scenario most of us are familiar with from “The Twilight Zone” (both t.v. show and movie). Thanks, Cyndy, for reminding me of that frightening scene mid-flight….exactly what I needed!
Things didn’t improve much five years later, the next time I flew, as I traveled from Minneapolis to Virginia for the holidays. By this time I was married and had the security of a fellow passenger in the adjoining seat who was calm, loving, and, alas, asleep. Though he wasn’t much more experienced in the air than me, my husband was adroit at falling asleep most any time and place the urge hit him. So, as I sat rigidly trying to read while simultaneously keeping the plane aloft by not shifting even the tiniest bit (a little known physics phenomena and surely expected of all passengers), he dozed happily. I was sure all was lost when the plane began to experience turbulence. As the cabin wobbled, so did my stomach, and my heart dropped precipitously when the man in the seat ahead of us–a priest–stood up. Fully convinced that the end was upon us, strains of “Nearer my God to Thee” ran through my head and I smiled sadly at my sleeping spouse…we were too young to die! Fortunately for all concerned, the plane’s erratic motion stopped about then and the priest continued his path down the small aisle to the bathroom. Evidently nature, not God, had prompted him to stand at precisely that moment.
I think the tiny planes affectionately known as “puddle jumpers” by those who can joke about such things frighten me the most. It seems to me that the small amount of metal surrounding us while flying in them simply can’t be enough to ward off thunderstorms, errant flocks of birds, or any of the other horrible mishaps that could easily ruin one’s trip (or life, for that matter). Moreover, I have to smile when the one attendant on these flying Cracker Jack boxes admonishes the passengers to “Not congregate in the aisles.” Trust me, it’s nearly impossible to walk in the aisles (Exhibit A: The passengers’ hips that bump you as they make their way to the bathroom), let alone gather in small groups to exchange travel stories.
Until jet pods such as those used by the Jetsons can make travel instantaneous, however, I am stuck with boarding planes occasionally. I’ve managed to develop an aptitude for feigning sleep during both take off and landing (the two scariest times for me) when I’m actually praying, discerning when my fellow sardined seat mate simply isn’t interested in my random chit chat, and empathizing with parents of screaming toddlers, no matter how they might make my head hurt. I just hope all who travel with me will be equally tolerant as I step off the plane and kiss the ground upon arrival; after all, if it’s good enough for the Pope, it’s good enough for me….