I have a friend back home who’s afraid of flying. Though I’ve never actually discussed it with her, I imagine she thinks I don’t understand that feeling at all. After all, I’ve taken at least a few dozen flights just this year! I also tend to argue for flying over driving, and I don’t take any anxiety meds or sleeping pills before getting on a plane. My friend may think that we can travel long-term like this because we’re fearless – or at least travel-fearless.
But, in truth, I definitely get scared. Just two weeks ago, I was on a little plane flying from Ohio (US) to Toronto, Canada. There were only nine rows of seats, and only one flight attendant for all of us.
My last few flights before this had been transcontinental ones on giant airplanes. When those planes take off, I sometimes worry that they’re too heavy to lift off, but once they’re in the air, they are sturdy and quiet. And planes that big have multiple back-up engines, right? On this little plane, I had a window seat just behind the propeller, which was rotating pretty loudly. Take-off felt easy, but once we were cruising, I kept wondering if the propellers could keep us up there. It really sounded to me like they could halt at any moment, and I spent most of the flight waiting for exactly that. Now, I blame this little bit of ridiculousness on too many episodes of TaleSpin and other cartoons as a kid: some of their plane propellers seemed to stop in the air, dropping the planes like giant anvils into the water below. But, I managed to reach Toronto without incident.
Then, on my way back, I was on giant airplanes again, but they kept flying through significant turbulence. Despite their size, these aircraft would drop a few feet in the air, making my stomach plummet. No matter how phlegmatic you seem, it is very difficult not to feel afraid in that moment. I am definitely not immune to flying fears.
And scary things happen on other modes of transport. Some bus drivers seem to think they can just crush anything in their way. Some trains seem to be going fast enough to defeat centripetal force around curves. Some cabbies seem to be racing through town, as though they’re trying to set a land speed record. Some motorcycles rev much faster than you expect, and you find yourself flying down a pothole-filled road with nothing but a small helmet protecting you from the many potential accidents that could befall you. Believe me, I am very creative when it comes to imagining what this could entail.
So, I’ve definitely been scared on our years-long trip, and I expect to continue to be. But I go anyway. Why? No, I don’t have a death wish. In fact, I have a very healthy sense of self-preservation. But here’s the thing: I can stay at home, hardly ever feeling afraid – and still find myself squished by a rogue bus or by falling debris. There would be little fear that way, but also few novel emotions and events. If that’s the case, I may as well be out there in it, having cool experiences and the occasional stomach-turning trip.
There’s lots to be (justifiably) afraid of. But I think we’re better off trying to distract ourselves from those fears, so we can get to the interesting stuff. At least, that’s what I tell myself when turbulence hits.