vernard: (scarletletter)
I'm writing this to put those thoughts down for my own benefit so that I don't forget. or rather, so that the details that seem clear in my mind now aren't clouded over time as they often do.

For most of my adult life i have had a strong dislike of flying. A sort of calm fear that half-paralyzes me at the instant that the plane first accelerates and doesn't quite end until we are safely high in the clouds. Then it calms to a dull roar in the back of my head. I usually am able to distract myself with some book or working on a laptop but the fear is still there like a patient jungle cat waiting for the impending landing for it to pounch on me and catch me in its deadly grip.

I wasn't always afraid of flying. Quite the opposite in fact. The first time I travelled on a plane, I found it absolute exhilirating. I was spellbound by the majesty of the clouds and the feeling as the plane banked as if my body were not in control of its direction. I yearned to be able to feel the wind in my face even though I know that such a desire was physically impossible. I spent a good part of my youth studying the history of flight and how it is accomplished. One of my life longs dreams was to own an autogyro so that I could fly myself with the wind in my face. I even became enamored with Superman due to his ability to fly and collected his comics for decades. Such are the dreams of childen.

I don't know when it changed, but at some point before I came to college, I became afraid of flying. I can't explain the exact moment but it was after one of the big plane crashes that happens every so often. Or maybe it was 2 or 3 as they tend to come in packs. I was cautious from that point on. I shrugged it off. I didn't like it any more but it was a necessary evil. So I endured it. It was simply the most practical option. 15 years later, I got married and my wife hated flying even more than I did. Or rather she hated ME flying without her for sure. She kept thinking I wasn't going to die in a plane crash. And that just set afire my new distrust of flying. It got worse from them on. I would not choose flight options unless I had to. And even then, I would always choose the one with the least layovers in the hope that I coudl avoid the multiple take-offs and landings. The wife left but the fear stayed. That calm, slow burning fear that internally consumes you with no external visibility. I'm sure my fellow airline travellers appreciated that because having a large Black man terrified of flying sitting in the seat next to you would definitely be a downer.

The good news is that I didn't have to do much flying. I got laid off from my job while separated from my wife and travel ceased. Years later, I didn't do much travel at all except for weddings. In fact, two years ago I had 4 weddings and a conference all within 6 weeks of each other and only 1 of them local to Atlanta. That required a helluva lot of flying. And that is when that fear really grabbed me again. I wasn't even able to focus on using my laptop while flying. And reading didn't work either. The ipod shuffle saved me though. Music seemed to distract me as long as it wasn't about flying.

Then something interesting happened. Last year when I went to visit my little sister, Dana, in Oregon, I experienced an epiphany that finally freed me of that manic fear. I was terrified during takeoff as usual and had loaded up my ipod shuffle with appropriate distracting music. I endured takeoff and we were comfortably crusing. I drifted in and out of consciousness for a few hours. As fate would have it, I had a window seat. For some reason, opened the window shade and looked out. And the sight was beautiful. And for the first time since I was a child, I had that same feeling of majesty and magnificence. All those joy came rushing back. I stared for a long time until I felt tears were streaming down my cheeks. I had been overcome with a strong sense of loss. I wept silently for long minutes until I finally closed the window shade and my eyes.

Somehow all those years ago, I had associated flying with great loss and sadness. And somehow, I had come to hate flying because it signifying great loss to me. There were many great losses in my life. My maternal grandmother, my brother's eyesight, my mentor gus Baird, my wife. And all of those were being associated with flying. No wonder I hated it. In that one moment of understanding, I found everything I needed.

Flying holds no fear for me now. Instead, I treasure it. For it does bring back the memories of my losses. Which also brings back memories of joy. My grandmother had been my world for my formative youth. And taught me to unconditional acceptance. My brother's blindness taught me that most of us are capable of much greater things when we have the right support. My mentor showed me that teaching was my passion. And my wife reminded me that I was capable of loving someone more than myself.

I'm not sure what will happen the next time I fly. But at least the fear is gone for now.


vernard: (Default)
Vernard Martin

April 2017

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