The only real difference
“The only real difference between Anxiety and Excitement was my willingness to let go of Fear.” — Barbara Brown Taylor
Sometime during our sons’ toddler years, around 1987, we had the misfortune to be on a really harrowing airline flight from Tampa to Charlotte en route back to our home in Dayton, Ohio. It’s the only time I’ve been on an airplane where the storm was so violent and the turbulence so extreme that people were screaming in fear. The captain announced, grimly, that there was no way to fly above or below the widespread thunderstorm; the flight attendants would have to remain strapped in, as would the rest of us, and we’d just have to tough it out. It didn’t help that it was a late flight, pitch dark outside except for the lightning.
This was during my years at USAir (then Piedmont Airlines), and we were flying “non-rev,” which meant that we were on free space-available passes, taking whatever seats had been left. It was a full flight, so we couldn’t sit together. Jeff sat with one son and I took the other (I don’t even remember who was with whom). I was seated next to another Piedmont employee, a mechanic, whose coworker sat across the aisle from us. During some of the worst moments, he exchanged fairly horrified looks with his friend. That wasn’t reassuring amid the sounds of airsickness, crying and fear all around us.
Eventually we landed safely in Charlotte, where I begged Jeff to rent a car and drive from there back to Dayton. I was serious. I felt as terrified as I had ever been. A confidence built on a lifetime of carefree trips, winging all over the world without a thought for safety, had suddenly vanished. It was to be a very long time before I could get on a plane without being far too nervous to enjoy it. When my father retired in 1988, someone videotaped most of his final flight from LAX to ATL, and I saw for the first time what a landing looks like from the cockpit of a jumbo jet, and heard the voices of the ATC personnel counting down the distance to the ground. It was all much less fearful from that standpoint, and I began to relax a bit. But the joy I had once felt in flying still did not return.
Perhaps it’s something to do with getting older, but my fear of airline travel has mostly subsided now. I still avoid window seats, but recently on a flight to Atlanta, I ended up in one. It was a sunny beautiful day, and as we banked over the Potomac, the views of DC were breathtaking. Grabbing my purse and fumbling for my camera, I felt annoyed with myself that I was not ready in time to photograph the Jefferson, Lincoln and Washington monuments from a rare and perfect perspective.
By the time we climbed over the clouds, though, the view was almost as arresting. It’s pictured above in the surreal clarity I saw out my window for nearly half an hour, though the brilliant sunlight cannot truly be captured in a photograph. Nobody else seemed to notice what I was seeing; they were all absorbed in their gadgets or books or naps. But I couldn’t take my eyes off the endless vista outside.
As happens occasionally in recent years, I was carried back in time briefly to my childhood, when the sky was my favorite place to be. What normally felt like anxiety was transformed to wonder and excitement. Maybe it was the bits of himself that Daddy left with us, coming together again and chasing away the fear and sadness with a childlike faith and joy in something that remains, even when I don’t realize it, an amazing gift that will never completely leave me.
Do you have any sources of anxiety that might be transformed to excitement if you could let go of fear? What do we have to gain– or lose– from such a transformation? How much exhilaration is present our every day, subdued by agitation or worry?