Fists With Your Toes

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As interconnected as the world is today, it’s still a big place. If you want to see some of the incredible places that our home planet has to offer, you might be required to board a pressurized metal cylinder that soars tens of thousands of feet of above the ground and is subject to an endless list of possible mishaps.

For most of my life, I was terrified of flying to the point of abject refusal to even consider it. Too much could go wrong. Crashes with no explanation. Terrorism. Faulty mechanics. Birds getting sucked into the engines. Seriously, goddamn those birds. I always erroneously expected the one flight in a million to go down to be the one I was on. I just always figured I would be safer on the ground.

In high school, I passed on a trip to France with my French class, on account of one real fear, and a coincidental one that developed from a movie that I inexplicably loved. The well-known crash of TWA Flight 800 contained a French class going to France on a class trip. The plane that Devon Sawa’s character in the film Final Destination had a premonition about exploding in mid-air just after takeoff? That plane also contained a French class going to France on a class trip. That was more than enough for me, rational or not. The terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 further sealed that deal for me for a good, long time.

I had been on a plane to Florida when I was a toddler and too young to know any better, but it wasn’t until 2007 that I had to leave my fear on the ground and get in the air. My parents had presented my brothers and I the opportunity to join them on a family vacation to Jamaica, the land of clear, warm water, white-sanded beaches, jerk chicken and rum. I would never have forgiven myself for saying no to that, for no other reason than an irrational fear of flying.

I kept telling myself before that first flight in over twenty years, that I would need alcohol and some sort of sleeping pill to make it through the three-and-a-half hour journey to the Caribbean island, but miraculously I made it without either. There was a bit of turbulence along the way but nothing that made me regret not having a will drafted  beforehand. The flight back was a little bit rougher, as when we neared our landing at JFK in New York, we flew directly through a thunderstorm. My mom gripped my hand as she cried, lightning flashing outside the plane all the while.

While things such as that are not fun to endure, my fear has subsided with more flights since then. In reality, I really am much more likely to die in a car accident than in a plane crash. It’s really all about surviving the ins and outs of flying, nowadays. It’s about navigating the often confusing lines at the airport. It’s about dealing with snarky TSA agents who seem like they hate their jobs, even though they’re probably just exhausted from dealing with millions of impatient people who can’t follow instructions. It’s about making it through the take-off, which is the most nerve-wracking part of the flight. It’s about having to get considerably violated after the security scanner finds an “anomaly” in your pelvic area. True story – make of that what you will.

No matter how many times you go through it, it’s all still strange and unnerving. You might marvel at how an airline can sell more tickets for a flight than there are seats on the plane. When you have to take the “red eye,” trying to fall asleep in the economy section is an exercise in futility, but there’s an odd comfort in staring out the window at the illuminated cities below. You put on headphones and pick a movie to drown out the sound of the engine, the frequent and unnecessarily loud beeping of the “fasten seatbelt” sign, or of the baby that’s been screaming for hours on end.

Through it all, you just can’t wait to be back on the ground. On land, there’s less of a chance of falling to your death, developing deep-vein thrombosis, or wetting yourself because you’re too stubborn to climb over people and hobble to the tiny bathroom. Up in the air, you have to find your own way to cope – whether it’s miniature bottles of liquor, some knockout medicine, or the in-flight entertainment – until your feet are safely back on soil. Pick your poison and find a way to make that sense of dread about the whole thing, which has planted itself firmly in the front of your mind, mosey on to the back.

Fly safe and enjoy your trip.

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