The only real difference

This isn't retouched; it really looked like this. Southwest flight 2361, November 2015

This isn’t retouched; it really looked like this.
Southwest flight 2361, November 2015

“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?

This post was first published seven years ago today. I’m happy to say that my joy in flying has now come full circle back to the fearless enthusiasm that was my birthright. With all the turmoil of recent years, I have somehow managed many, many travels and explorations. This has helped me to focus on the wider world, turning my thoughts away from personal sorrow.

The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.


  1. Raynard Shellow

    Good morning Julia. Next month will be 20 years since I flew over to Iraq. No wait that was cold Ft Drum NY 83 days later them I flew over to Iraq. I sat on the right side of the 777. I remember the pilot saying we are now 37 000 feet. I said to myself there’s no place like home. I Digress really. Actually I was looking for Snoopy at the end of the wing with a scarf and goggles on. Lol.I believe it was last month when our oldest granddaughter flew on a plane for the first time from Houston to Virginia. I didn’t want to rain on her parade by saying Oh I’ve been on a plane 37 times. I digress. Mary and I are talking about a cruise and a trip to Florida to see family and friends. Thank you always for your word pictures as they are a source of encouragement.

    • Hi Raynard, I’m so sorry it has taken me so long to get to these comments. I could tell you why but that would involve way too many instances of “I digress” for me! Have you really kept count of the number of times you’ve flown, or was that just a guess? Either way, if you flew those military flights, that’s a sort of travel experience not granted to the general public. The few times we flew on military transport, I found it equally tiring, fascinating and surprisingly efficient. I had to get used to sitting backwards, though, but have been told by many reliable sources that it is indeed the safest way to be a passenger. I hope you and Mary do get to go on that cruise, and on the trip to Florida to see family and friends. No one deserves it more than you two! I send you my warmest wishes for 2023 and sooner or later we WILL get together again! ❤

  2. Good morning, Julia! As I’ve been going through my Uncle Roy’s many thousands of slides, I have come across a few that he must have snapped from the cockpit. Mountains, lakes, clouds, the ocean, even an active volcano! (That wasn’t very close-up, I’m glad to say). The one approaching the runway from the air made me a bit nervous; although the appearance was pleasant, level, and welcoming, I had to hope that he either had, or was, a co-pilot, so someone else was actually flying.

    • Susan, I had forgotten (or maybe never knew) that Roy was a pilot. Did he fly for an airline, or just as a private pilot? If he was shooting an approach, probably someone else was filming…or flying. Depending on what sort of aircraft he was flying, there could have been as many as three or four other pilots in that cockpit. Those days are gone, I’m afraid…

      • Hi Julia,
        My Uncle Roy was half-owner of a 4-seated airplane. The wings were above the windows, so you could get a nice view, looking down. I don’t think he ever flew for an airlines, although he may have had a professional pilot license. He was also a flight instruction let me steer once, very briefly.
        Mainly, he was in electronics and telecommunications.

  3. mike

    This is a little scary to me as they just had the Hawaii flight incident- extreme turbulence on a Hawaii air flight and 29 hurt, some seriously. We are supposed to fly to NYC on Xmas day, but with the weather looking chilly?
    i do remember one flight when the drink cart, right next to me at the time, flew up like a foot in the air and the attendant returned to his seat.

    • Mike, were you caught in that horrendous chaos of Christmas travel? I hope not.

      • mike c

        Yes we were. Three hours on the tarmac at Liberty Newark. We arrived on time at 8:30 pm. VGot a gate at 11:45. People were freaking out and one lady started yellling. ” I have to get out of here. Let me out.”
        Then missed our connection to Grand Central and ended up dozing at the airport. Then caught a 6a.m. bus to NYC.
        Hundreds of suitcases at Liberty just lined up on the walls and no-one watching them. No security. People walking around picking up suitcases. Theirs- i don’t know. Horrible. If you can avoid Liberty, do so.

        • I used to love flying in and out of EWR, because I was always headed to lower Manhattan, and that was the closest way to get there, straight through the Holland Tunnel. Maybe things have changed, but it used to be way easier than LGA or JFK. There should have been several ways to get to Manhattan from EWR. There used to be plenty of shuttles and the NJ Transit train to Penn Station, which runs until around 1:00 am. Of course now there is Uber, too. I’ve always been amazed that almost no airport on earth checks luggage against claim checks when people leave. It would be too time consuming and would create huge lines. Like much else in our world, it still operates largely on the honor system. Which is why I never check anything I’m not willing to lose.

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