On Flying / by vanessa

My emotions walk a perilous line between fear and awe during these frequent flights on which I find myself. At best, I’m tickled and inspired by the unique view of the Earth I’m afforded several times a month: the horizon is magnificently expansive and deep; major metropolitan areas reduced to micro semblances of a Lite Brite rendering; the sheer beauty of viewing the wondrous Grand Canyon from 30,000 feet. I’ve witnessed electrical storms in striking adjacency – the lightning violently cutting through the clouds at a distance which felt close enough to touch, if it weren’t for the boundaries of this aircraft. (Mind you, I’m not cursing those boundaries. I wouldn’t want to find myself, upon staring at the storm from this height, suddenly free from the object that by aeronautic, umm, magic, keeps me both suspended at parallel with the tempest while protecting me from its reaches. I picture Wylie E. Coyote, while chasing the elusive Roadrunner, having found himself extended beyond the cliff’s edge, with just enough time to acknowledge the Law of Gravity before plummeting to great depths. Rapidly. And he is a cartoon – I’m betting I wouldn’t fare the same fate.)

Which brings me to awe’s converse – fear. I know it’s hack to note that 9/11 has changed the way many feel about flying. In most cases, mine included, it has only heightened a pre-existing dread of air travel. In 1998 I travelled to visit Tera in London. This was a year or maybe months past the Oklahoma City bombing – the first time America had experienced larger-scale terrorism on its own soil. (I suppose I should check the specifics, but hell I’m not grammar checking this, what with my sentence fragments abundance of unnecessary run-ons, verb-tense switching, and general incoherence, so why employ basic writing standards now?) We were shocked, *shocked* that this could happen to us. I was only surprised it hadn’t happened earlier. And I’m thinking as I board the 9-hour flight, how we were just biding time until another attack occurred. I envisioned our plane hijacked mid-flight (lest your eyes roll completely back in your head just bear with me – I’m not making claims of clairvoyance here), unable to land safely in England, instead crashing in the North Pole. Yep, the North Pole. Don’t ask me – it’s also a recurring nightmare I’ve had since I was a teenager. Not the hijacking part, but the crashing-into-the-icy-abyss-at-the-top-of-the-globe part. Anyways, here’s my point: prior to that fateful September day I often misinterpreted turbulence for certain disaster, and after it – well it has been given its own irrational credence. I overanalyze shifts in direction (“Was that scheduled?”), assume increases in speed are a response to a dire emergency, and frantically stare out the window to see if the captain’s call for fastening our seatbelts is really veiled message of engine failure.

It’s not like this all the time, as I said, often I am amazed by my fortune for the blessings found at this altitude. Yet, it is punctuated with dread and fear, and it shouldn’t be. My yogic training teaches me that unhappiness comes in wanting to control what is out of our control. I know this. I breathe this. Deep ujjayi breathing … in through the nose… out through the nose… mmm… ujjayi… but sometimes I forget and I’m wrapped up, frightened by life’s fragile impermanence.

As we start our descent I’m careful to not make any resolutions or wistful reflections, i.e. appreciate flying, because I know myself well enough to know that those too are fleeting.