Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Come Dare The Friendly Skies...

Think about it.

You're sitting in a metal tube
hurtling through the air at an average of 500 mph
somewhere between 35,000 and 40,000 feet up
(roughly between 7 and 8 miles)...

Sounds like a dare doesn't it?

Last week, somewhere between Los Angeles and New Orleans and sometime after hearing of the giant hole that had ripped in the fuselage of one of Southwest Airline's fleet of Boeing 737-300s a few days before, I saw the image to the left whilst in the air:

Funny, no?

Kinda made me wish that the email that was sent to me the previous day from Southwest proudly informing me that I was on a Wi-Fi flight for a small fee of $5 had instead guaranteed me (or at least acknowledged the recent events) that my plane would not crack in two while hurtling through time and space.

You see, it's not quite so bad when you're up in the air and the sun is shining and everything is so smooth you start to forget that you are on a plane. No, no...the times that trouble me are when the turbulence begins to shake you like an older brother who has just found his younger sister's new Barbie doll and the dark clouds swirl in around your plane or that the Captain comes on the PA and says things like "Ladies and gentleman, uh, the Flight Attendants are going to serve you your in-flight drinks now but as the flight deteriorates we're going to have them sit down." (This has happened. Thank you, Alfy)


I don't care how calmly you say that, you just told me that the flight that I am on is "deteriorating"!!! And you're not even offering me a parachute so that I can decide whether or not I choose to stay and take my chances or whether I'd like to hurl my ass out of Door #2.

The numbers say that I am unreasonable to be afraid of flying. Especially when I have absolutely no fear of driving in cars, which is statistically more dangerous. But the thought of something going wrong and having 35,000 feet to consider that I am plummeting to certain death always somehow creeps into my head and makes my palms start to sweat.

Usually, cranking up my iPod to my Gospel section helps. At least I'll go out listenin' to hymns about the baby Jesus.

Though something recently gave me pause. I usually fly alone. On my latest business trip (which happened to be in my hometown of good ol' New Orleans), I flew with my good friend and boss, Aaron Fox- aka Alfy. With my friend by my side, I noticed my fears were pretty much completely absent. I got a bit tense on take-off, but they subsided almost as quickly as they came.

Which made me regard the notion that my fear really is more about dying alone. Or rather, dying around a bunch of strangers to whom I have no real connection. The idea of having time to contemplate my impending doom while having no one to hold onto, to turn to, to rely on at least to give me some comfort is perhaps what truly frightens me. When you think about it, it's a pretty understandable fear: the fear that in your final moments you're all alone and that is all you are going to know for the rest of your life. This is a pretty dark and lonesome fear, but it is a common one. It is a fear that certainly colors many of the decision we make- both large and small- on a daily basis.

But we keep flying.
That's the world we live in.
That's the risk we have to take if we're going to get out in this world and live a little.
Throughout history, the human spirit has shown that it naturally resists fear and the threat of conquer from internal and external forces- hence the success of stories like Rocky and The Fighter and even Stephen King's novels The Shining and Dolores Claiborne.
We ignore these fears, and we push ever forward to live our life on our own individual terms.

So pay no attention to the turbulence, forget the lighting a few hundred yards away, don't think about the fact that you can see daylight through the roof- just crank up your Mahalia Jackson a bit louder...

and relax.