I have a love of travel and a fear of flying. This is a horrible combination. Some people would call it unfortunate – I would call it Agony.
I know flying is the safest form of travel – people always make sure to remind me of that as I clutch my seat upon takeoff. But, my dear frequent flyers, please understand: it doesn’t matter how many numbers you throw at someone, or how many anecdotes you have about inconsequential turbulence, if someone is afraid of flying, nothing you say can change that. It doesn’t matter how many planes took off and landed safely that day – once I’m strapped into that plane, the only thing that exists in the world is that plane. And all the other planes in the sky on its collision course. And the desolate, unforgiving ground. And the tornado-filled clouds above that ground. And the passengers, every one of which might be a terrorist. Also the deep, blue ocean. With sharks.
I digress, but hear me out: for me, it’s an issue of trust. I not only have to trust my pilot, I have to trust his instruments. I also have to trust all the other pilots in the sky, and also all of their instruments. With that, I have to trust the engineers who built the plane, the maintenance crew who fixes it, the flight controller who guides it, and the passengers to not-be malicious. And even then, even when all that trust has proven its worth, I still have to trust the weather to not-be a royal dick.
And yet somehow, the [apparently absurd] conviction that every time I step inside a plane it will probably kill me comes not without its benefits. Allow me to walk you through the process with which I achieve those benefits. It starts at home, before departure.
1. I walk around my childhood home as a man on his final day, somberly taking in the beauty that is family, childhood, and life for one last moment. I play fetch with the household dog for one last time. In the Light of Finality, I see the idyllic sublime that is the love between Man and Dog. I understand the dog loves me, and I love it. I tell the dog I love it. The dog does not understand my fate, which reveals a deep, endearing innocence of animal-kind.
2. In the corner of my bedroom is a teddy bear. A crush of mine gave it to me when I was a teenager. It allows me to recall the innocent yet absurd power of first loves, and I long for the passion I once held in my youth. Teen foolishness seems beautiful to me – without it, from where would we find adult wisdom? The regret of my eventual demise forces me to place significance on the bonds of my past – bonds which I presumably would no longer be having, and therefore become all the more precious.
3. I realize with my departure how much I love my family. The prospect of never seeing them again is painful, and with that pain comes the realization that my family has always been there for me. I hopelessly wish that my family will always be there for me in the future. I look out to the hills, and I realize too that the land has nurtured me. I am a product of the who and the where, and I owe so much to my brother, sisters, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, friends, and even the trees on the horizon. Thank you. Thank you so much for getting me this far.
4. I reflect on the absurdity of choice, and therefore the deniability of fault. Here I am, willingly partaking in my demise. I’m on the way to the airport. I look at the at the security. I pass the security. I look at the gate. I have the choice of not getting on the plane, but that choice seems ridiculous. I mean, what would I say? “Sorry, Professor, I can’t take my final tomorrow. I shat myself boarding the plane and had to stay home. …yes, Professor… I know it’s the safest form of travel.”
At every point in my final odyssey, I have had the choice of turning around and again enjoying the family, dog, and bonds I have just now learned to value, but I don’t. I step onto the plane. Why do I step onto the plane? Why am I resigned to accept my fate? Why does this have to be inevitable? Is it shame? Am I afraid of being silly? Do we value life less than we value dignity? This gives me empathy for those whom we fault for their own suffering. Choice is senseless, and therefore fault is meaningless.
5. I look at my fellow passengers. I look at their faces – these strangers. Who are these people with whom I will spend my final minutes in intimate horror? I have never met them. They have never meant anything to me. But I will be with them, and they with me in our final moment. Are they are the most important people in my life, because they are there at its conclusion? Poetry or Absurdity? Are they the same, or are they opposites?
6. Oh how ironically poetic the world is in the absence of poetry! Here I am, having newly discovered my longing for Past, the love for Family, the kinship with Dog, the truth behind Choice, the empathy for the Faulty! And through all this unduly and pompously lofty emotional rhetoric, I will burn without dignity – my body will be turned to dust, and the Grand Poetry of Existence will crumble in a pile of crunched aluminum and the Grotesque will reign. Is fate poetic? Or is fate anti-poetic? Perhaps poetry exists within an expression of absolute value.
7. God – I don’t often pray to you. In fact, I only pray to you when I feel that I need you, and I realize that is terribly selfish. I am selfish because I am asking you to protect me. But understand, God, that I am weak. I am foolish. I am foolish because I choose to deny myself fault for my actions, and I am weak because I refuse to acknowledge needing help until I see myself in the bright light of Inevitable Demise. Please help me, God, help us all.
8. I notice my superstitions – I read the safety information card every time I take off. I carry a coin with a guardian angel on it that my mother gave me years ago. I think about jinxes (and even now as I write this entry, I think about jinxes, and I hesitate to post). I have to keep my legs uncrossed on take off and landing, and I always get tomato or apple juice.
9. Why am I at the mercy of superstitions? How can I even justify praying to a God to which I seldom pray while partaking in meaningless rites that influence nothing about my reality? Am I trying to compensate for my lack of control – my lack of power over my situation? Between me and the ground 35,000 feet below is a machine powered by a guy not too different from myself. And yet, my life depends on him. I have to trust him. I have to trust everyone, because I am powerless. Without trust, I cannot function. I would not be able to get out of bed every morning if not for trusting the people I meet on the road, in the street, on the bus.
I am powerless. I am nobody. I am somebody inasmuch as I allow myself to trust others. Trust and Self – Are they one and the same?
10. And then my plane lands, and I stumble, wrecked and dazed, out of the terminal, staring at the sun I thought I’d never see again, feeling the mercy of second chances running through my heart and veins, and thanking God, Fate, the Pilot, and everyone else for allowing me yet another day on such a fine world.
And that is the great perk of pteromerhanophobia: it gives you a second chance. Over and over again, for as long as you choose to fly.
(Of course, the first thing I do with my second chance at life? Blogging! And we’re back to where we once were, none the wiser.)