Hello , This is one of the final posts of my overcoming fear series. These are testimonies from different people. Ride Along
I’m agoraphobic, which means that I sometimes deal with irrational fear related to travel. Beginning in childhood, travel often sent me into a full-body, nauseous, sweaty panic attack.
It hasn’t kept me housebound since a brief, harrowing period in my early twenties, but those memories remain with me. In some way, every flight I take is a small victory for the suicidal, terrified young woman I was back then, a girl whose closest thing to a win was walking down the driveway holding her parents’ hands and saying, “OK. This is enough for today.”
Thanks in large part to therapy and medication, my life is now quite different. As an author and comedian, I travel frequently and with relative ease. But on a recent flight from the south to Chicago, I experienced something that at least felt like real danger.
As our plane approached O’Hare, everything seemed normal. Cute babies napped (thank goodness), polite adults used headphones to listen to music (thank goodness). I sat beside a very pretty young woman who was sweet and quiet, and I did my best to return the favor. We descended, and I got ready to turn on my cellphone in just a few moments.
And then we bounced off the ground. Hard.
It was a jarring experience, literally. Things fell down, and up, and sideways. A few people screamed. Babies woke up and screamed. No one had told us anything, but as the plane bucked and swayed into a sudden ascent, it seemed clear something had gone wrong.
A strange calm settled into my belly. Three thoughts came quickly, but without fear.
“I love my Mom and Dad and I’m glad they know it.”
“If I have to die, at least I’m listening to my favorite Fleetwood Mac album.” (You’d think it would be Rumours, but it was actually the 1997 reunion album The Dance featuring the heavenly University of Southern California Marching Band.)
The guy behind me said to his seatmate, ‘It wasn’t pretty, but it never is. We landed safe. That’s all that matters.’
“I don’t have children or a husband or wife or girlfriend or boyfriend or partner of unspecified gender identification and I’m glad I won’t leave anyone bereaved in those particular ways. It’s a bummer to lose your mom or your ladyfriend.”
We struggled back into the air with some rather dramatic, stomach-churning dips and bobbles. During one particular jolt, a few adults said, “Oh my God!” in unison. One woman said, “What the hell?” and then immediately apologized for cussing (this was, after all, a flight that originated in Charleston). Her seatmate, a stranger, held her hand and told her it was OK and he didn’t know what the hell was going on, either.
Whether or not the pilot was actually struggling to gain control of his craft, it felt like he was having a hard time. And due to the lack of communication, we had no way of knowing what was actually going on. (In retrospect I’m glad he focused on his job rather than on our feelings.)
I looked at my seatmate to check on her. Sometimes if I’m sad or scared it helps me to help somebody else feel better. I call it “selfish benevolence”. She seemed cool as a cucumber. I realized I was in the presence of a genteel badass. The south is full of these women. I considered asking for her email but in the south and elsewhere it’s generally considered poor form to hit on somebody as you both face potential death.
After about 20 minutes, we landed. And everything was fine. The pilot said, “Sorry folks – we came in too close for a landing and had to go around.” It seemed like a reasonable explanation. I accepted it. I also accepted that if there were other reasons, I would never know them.
As we taxied down the runway, the guy behind me said to his seatmate, “It wasn’t pretty, but it never is. We landed safe. That’s all that matters.” He turned out to be an off-duty pilot.
In the terminal, I texted my younger brother. He was sympathetic for exactly 90 seconds. Then our inherited affection for gallows humor took over (my mother correctly pins this on my father; I’d expand it to include the Irish diaspora and its descendants in general). My brother said, “What if it did crash and you’re a ghost now and you don’t know it yet?”
“I guess I could haunt the sushi bar,” I said. “People love it there.” O’Hare and Denver share the distinction of having some actually well-reviewed airport restaurants on site.
There was no time to reflect; I had to catch a connecting flight. Had to keep moving. Had to get to where I was going: Los Angeles, city of dreams and guys with thriving life-coaching practices.
I jogged to the plane, the last one to board. In my seat, I had a moment to breathe.
“Well, that happened,” I said.
The plane took off. We landed in Los Angeles without a hitch. And I went home to my neighborhood, with its palm trees and pretty little old houses and rich folks and homeless folks and everyone in between, the renters and the buyers and the stars and the nobodies like me. And it wasn’t until I was in bed that night that I realized I hadn’t panicked.
Small victories. I take them whenever I can.
Story retrieved from The Guardian