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My junior year of high school, I wanted to visit my sister for my spring break. She was away at college in Minnesota and my mother, my main mode of transportation, decided to travel to see her mom. So I found myself faced with a solo trip. I selected to take the Greyhound bus. From Ohio. Cue an almost all day excursion.
Yes, my folks might have put some money towards a plane ticket. If not, then I could have swung it from my babysitting and summer job fund. Yet I did not, could not, because of my fear of flying.
How does a fear develop about something you’ve barely done? How does the brain circle around and create doomsday scenarios without any basis of fact? Before that trip, I’d flown twice to South Carolina. I remember the first was on Eastern Airlines and that the flight attendant gave me pin-on wings.
I also remember the hot tears streaming down my cheeks and the feeling that my head would explode. My mom gave me chewing gum and instructed me to yawn. None of those tricks relieved the pressure within my blocked ears.
I don’t remember any turbulence, unexpected bumps or weather-related conditions. There was nothing concrete to pin the fear to yet there it landed, festered and grew. My concept of a good travel destination was to confirm we could get there by car.
When I stated working and found I needed to take flights for the job or to be able to fit in vacations outside of quick driving destinations, I resisted flying in the winter, balked at small planes and white-knuckled all the way–unable to sleep, eat or read.
Then on August 25, 2001, Aaliyah Haughton died while returning on a chartered plane from a video shoot in the Bahamas. My mom called to tell me she’d heard a singer had died and I turned on CNN to see the announcement running across the bottom of the screen. I remember sitting up in my bed with my hand over my mouth, then saying over and over, “oh no.” I’d first seen Aaliyah when she performed “My Funny Valentine” on Star Search in the ’80s and became a fan by her first album in 1994.
My heartbreak at learning of her death was as much tied to her being only 22 as it was to the way she died on that plane. Rumor is that she was a nervous flyer too, but did it as a requirement for existing in the fast pace of the entertainment world.
As I sat there in my bed and flicked channels then headed to my computer to learn every detail I could, I played the thought over and over in my head of her on that plane. Of the fear that someone must feel when they realize a takeoff has gone wrong. The grip of the gut as a plane loses altitude. The pain and destruction of impact. I thought about her fellow passengers on the flight and if they had a chance to say anything to each other. And I thought about the words of prayer they all might have offered.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1, KJV)
And it was there, in that moment, that I faced my fear. I thought it was crazy at first, to find a sense of personal understanding from the tragedy. Yet in her death, I reflected back on myself at 22 and the years I’d been able to enjoy since. I thought about the difficult flight I was on out of Tampa a few years back and how I made it through. I thought about Aaliyah’s courage to get on those small planes again and again. I thought about my spiritual beliefs and how if I truly had faith, I’d know I would be okay regardless of what the plane did.
Now, the majority of my trips involve a flight. Once I even flew roundtrip from Phoenix to Laughlin in a four seat plane with my best friend’s husband at the controls. When I fly, I say a silent prayer as we board and takeoff and then say “thanks” when we land. In the middle, I watch a movie if offered, read my Kindle or a book, eat snacks I’ve brought on board or doze off as my iPod spins on random play. And I think of Aaliyah and her strength and know it will be alright.
What are some of your fears? Have you found the courage to face them through the experiences of others?
It’s amazing where we can draw inspiration and strength from, isn’t it? Sometimes the greatest travesties enable us to grow and expand ourselves the most. Good for you for facing your fear and finding a way to not let it hold you back from living your life to the fullest.
I am always nervous flying and I’ve flown a lot in my lifetime. As I get older, I actually find it getting worse. But like you, I say a little prayer before and a little mantra of gratitude when we land safely and it helps. Distractions with movies or a good book definitely help as does Gravol.
Yes I think it was a life wake up moment. I thought about limits I’d put on myself and how no time is promised. All my control stuff means nothing against the universe. So as I cried for her I also breathed. Thanks for sharing Natalie!
Your process of getting through your fear rings true. I feel more anxious now than I ever did, I think it’s because I’m old enough to know just how fragile life is. I also worry about my kids and what would happen to them while I’m gone what could happen to me while I’m gone. Once I board that plane I come full circle like you do. Have faith, say a prayer and know that facing my fear makes me stronger.
Kate, the what ifs are what messed with my mind too. I needed to go through a “letting go” process. Thanks for sharing your experience.
There have been times where instead of dwelling on my fear, I’ve prayed and remembered Romans 8:38-39: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” When I’m able to truly trust in that, the overwhelming sense of peace is amazing. Of course, I’ve also had plenty of times where believing it was a struggle I didn’t quite win.
Thanks for sharing that passage Angela! Yes it is the trust that I’d let my fear bury. Once I tap back into that, I do feel peace.
Learning from what I fear, is the most difficult task for me. But it works, if I can convince myself to go the fear path with my eyes wide open.
Flying doesn’t scare me a bit but there are other things that frighten me every time I let myself to think of them.
I worry about my aging parents, who live so far away from me. If anything happens to them, I might not be able to get to their home in Poland from US in time. I also worry about my children. Fortunately enough they are in good health. But I’ve witnessed my son’s classmate struggle with a rare form of leukemia and dying in her mother’s arms after over a year of fighting. The girl was only seven years old then. I will never forget how terribly it hurt to lose her. And she wasn’t even my child.
I believe in power of prayer—it always eases me through the tough times. I also rely on my family and friends. They often have ways to alleviate my fears.
Thanks for sharing some of your fears Angela. Speaking out to others our fears is a great practice and one it took me time to embrace. My background has been such that I’ve needed to show my core strength outwardly or be strong for others. I’ve learned as I’ve gone along that reaching out is not a sign of weakness.
Wow, powerful stuff here! Facing our fears is never easy, but you did it with Grace and I love how you say, when you were crying for Aaliyah, you also breathed. I remember her crash – I can’t believe it’s been ten years now. I was so shocked and saddened because she was so you and had a golden future before her.
I used to be white knuckles on planes, but having kids made me realize they were watching me and would react however I did on the plane. I had to force myself to stay calm and relax – eventually, I was able to ‘fake it ’til I make it, meaning, I was pretending to be calm for so long that I eventually became calm on flights! Now I love flying (well, maybe not the 17 hour flights). Strange how we psyche ourselves out.
That it has been 10 years is amazing to me as well Tameri. The fact that she was so young also hit me. I love the fake it to you make it mention. Absolutely. I did that as well as positive self talk. I find I can psyche myself positive and negative.
Sometimes it take another person’s tragedy to help us come to grips with our own issues. I love to fly and always remind myself that it’s a much safer way to travel than driving a car on the highway!
You are so right Patricia. I’m glad you love to fly. I can look out of a plane window now and see the beauty of where we are and that brings me a sense of peace.