This I Believe

Kathleen - San Juan Capistrano, California
Entered on August 14, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: fear

You Have To be a Bird-brain to Fly

In a few weeks, I will travel to and the usual pre-flight panic has already washed over me. I lie awake under the covers. It used to be the midair collision; then it became takeoff and landing. I moved on to hijacking, and now—well, now it’s terrorism. Even though the odds are against my particular plane being the one targeted, and even though I stashed in my Bible a printed copy of the statistics that prove my chances to perish are greater in my own car, I can’t run from it.

Naked fear has nothing to do with reason. Has anyone forgotten that it is classified as an emotion? The same critics of my compulsion to remain grounded, fall in love (what rationale is there in that?), weep over loss, and laugh with glee at the thought of winning the lottery. Yet, my emotion is dismissed as foolish and inconvenient.

“Kathleen would rather drive,” moans a family member, when the idea for a jaunt to San Francisco lands on the table for discussion. All together now: Groan. Do I complain about having to seek out a certain Metamucil cracker for my father, who has chided me about my aversion to air travel since…forever?

Terrorism is terrifying, no doubt, but it is simply, yet, another in a series of signs portending the notion that is no surprise to me: Man was not meant to fly. And yes, air aficionados will counter that we were created with minds bright enough to develop aeronautical advancements. If we are savvy enough to stay out of the surf when a “red flag” of warning unfurls at the lifeguard tower, why would I board a plane during global airline “Red Alert”?

As we all do for things over which we have no control, I can, in part, blame my mother, for my trepidation. The first time I was airborne, she buckled her seatbelt, pulled a large rosary from her purse, and closed her eyes until the stewardess came , at which point she ordered gin –at 8:30 in the morning. I had been looking forward to my new adventure, since my father had described the wonders of aerial viewing during his weekly, business commuter-flights. Mama’s reaction only proved to me what I had suspected of my father: he was engaged in an elaborate coping-mechanism cover-up. Poor man; he knew what lay ahead for viable family vacations, were I to join the maternal ranks of feet-on-the-ground.

Once I gave birth, I made promises —ways I would make my daughters’ lives easier and breezier, without my irrational quirks to poison their psychological progress. I vowed never to be over-protective (failed on that one), always to listen (when I wasn’t on the phone), and above all—I would never let them board an airplane knowing of my anxiety. I managed to pull it off, although, God knows, the stressful ruse has shaved years off my life. We watched Meg Ryan together in that Paris movie where she miserably fails her “Fear of Flying” course. She bolts from the cabin mock-up, while chanting her mantra about picturing her dream cottage. Even then, I did not unpack my phobia.

But, since September 11, I have been unable to camouflage concern. At least, they were surprised to learn about it, I console myself. At least, I never said, “Never!” to a journey; nor did I put a damper on the dream of any fellow traveler. At least, they are old enough now to have passed the time-frame of influence a mother wields over her child. They can soar unscathed, and join the joking crowd, down here, that scoffs at my mania.

Yet, there is hope, a glimmer of understanding, now that we are in danger of losing shampoos and gels, laptops and cell phones, and most important of all—lipstick. If my daughters can’t carry those essentials aboard, they just might join me on the road next summer. In the meantime, there is that trip looming on the horizon. It’s across the country, so the car is out of the question.

Another thing to give to God. I hand Him so many things. He must be running out of room in His bag for my junk. Where did I put my mother’s rosary?