13 December 2011

finding balance

I have, slowly but surely, come to peace with my need to be compulsively anxious when flying.

After the first flight fiasco--when a cup of water intended to ease a little tension resulted in a full body cramp of death for approximately an hour--I have always taken window seats. Follow me on this one. Before, sitting in my aisle seat, I felt secure enough. If the side of the plane suddenly disappeared, I'm a little bit further from harm, and if the window suddenly popped out, that puts two people between me and the open sky-- and I'm betting one of them plugs the hole. But then my compulsive anxiety started whispering in my ear: If you're sitting this far from the window, you have no idea what's happening out there. And it was true. So I started sitting at the window. It made things better. I could see everything. I could watch the plane take off from the ground. I could see the wheels safely make it into their little hibernation cave until until it was time to land. But then, I could also see too much. I could see the clouds passing through the engines, and learned to associate their swift glidings with the turbulence making my stomach turn. I could see the ice forming on the window, and the wings. I could imagine a gremlin pulling at the wires. So I started closing my eyes at takeoff, and during most of the flight. I learned the blessed peace of in-flight napping. But I also learned to be even more anxious.In the simplest of terms: everything about flying makes me anxious.

So when, for the first time ever in my short time flying from one place to another, I wind up sitting alone, the anxiety of the moment kills.

Seriously. It's the most uncomfortable I've ever been on a plane, and I've sat next to a man whose fat and limbs spilled onto me like snowdrift. Everything felt ... unbalanced. I kept looking at the people sitting on the other side of the plane. They were disproportionately larger. I'm no Skinny McSlim, but seriously-- there were too many bigguns sitting on the right side of the plane, and too many skinnies on my side, and here I was sitting alone ... it was a disaster waiting to happen.

From that point, everything stopped making sense.

1. There was a pleasant Korean man sitting in front of me. I met him in the airport; he asked me at least three times if they had called his Zone number yet. His ticket was "Zone Four," and we were at Zone Zero when he started asking. On the plane, this lovely gentleman was reading what I soon realized was a distinctly female magazine. At first I thought maybe I was mistaken--I've been known to be a bit self-misogynistic, assuming a magazine with mostly soup and Sketchers ads is a women's magazine--but when he turned the page and it revealed a full-spread image of a uterus, I knew he was definitely checking out a chick mag. I started trying to figure out how he got his hand on it, and every thought it my head sent him on a cross country voyage of discovering America. I pictured him on a train, traveling from some place like New York City across the country at a slow pace, viewing the North American landscape with fresh eyes and wonder. I pictured him reaching the West Coast and determining to see the nation once more from a fresh perspective. And so he decided to fly back. But when he stepped foot onto the plane, and took his first glance down, he realized he had lost, not gained, perspective. And so, at some place-- I imagined it was somewhere in New Mexico--he decided to give it up and pick up some American literature instead, and not knowing what he was doing, wandering into the women's interest section and ... voila.

2. The man sitting behind me was extremely angry that I got my own seat. He didn't understand how the flight could be--as the woman in the airport had announced minutes earlier--"apparently overbooked" and yet I wound up with my own seat. His seatmate posed the possibility that I had bought both seats, which they both decided was extremely selfish of me. I took that opportunity to turn and inform them that no, I had not bought both seats, my seatmate simply hadn't shown up. When the flight attendant began asking people in the exit rows if they could fulfill their duties in case of an emergency, Angry Row Four Man too loudly whispered that he was tempted to say he could not so he could have my seat and finally have some space on a flight. I turned around, looked him right in the eye, and said, "Try it." He did not. I spread out.

3. About five minutes into the flight, the captain announced that we were approximately 25 minutes from our destination. The man sitting across from me, a delightful elderly man whose name I never caught, said, "Twenty-five minutes? That's enough time for a ... a sing-along!" Most folks around us laughed. But I--after a full semester of nary a moment passing without singing--found myself blurting out, "Let's do it." A few more chuckles followed. I asked: "What do you want to sing?" He answered: "Honey, if I know it, I'll sing along." And so I started the first verse of Leaving on a Jet Plane, and he joined in, and soon at least twelve of our coflyers were singing along. Unfortunately, the first verse was all I knew by heart. Fortunately, Mr. 3D seemed to know the rest, and we got through the whole song. There were more and better harmonies than Armageddon. It was lovely.

4. I looked out the window at the dark city landscapes below and for a moment found myself completely disoriented. The city below, lit up like a Christmas tree, looked so much like the vibrant Flagstaff night sky I felt upside down. It made me think of all the times as children we must have looked up at the night sky and mistaken the floating orbs we saw for wonders. How long it took for us to recognize that brilliant blue light was not a star at all, but Venus. How impossible it was for our teachers to convince us that the sun was also a star, because stars go to sleep during the day, obviously. How amazed and confused and freaked out we were the first time we saw the moon out during the day. How often we mistook passing planes for falling stars, and made wishes on jet streams. Now, with the world turned upside down, I felt like an angel making wishes on passing cars.

In the end too much happened to be too anxious for too long.

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