Control and Fear

I’ve flown dozens of times in my life. Now that my family lives far away, I consistently take at least 3 flights (x2 for the roundtrip-ness of my ventures) every year. One would think that this experience would bring about a sense of peace with the winged travel, but in actuality all my traveling has brought about this sense that every time I fly, I am “beating the odds” when I land safely. In short- I am NOT a calm flyer.

This past Christmas I had one of the most “turbulent” flights of my life. Turbulent is their euphemism for “you will be tossed around like a rag doll as our paper airplane hits some hurricane force winds.” The wind was so bad that even the sure-footed flight attendants took their seats and strapped in. I quickly assumed my death grip on the arm rests position of sheer terror and turned on my music as loud as my ear drums could handle.

I had this sudden sense of complete and utter insignificance. Looking out the window, seeing the wind jump all around the tilting wing of the plane, I realized just how small the plane I was on was. Normally when I see planes, I think of how huge they are and how impossible it seems that they can lift off into the air. Not now. No, at this moment I kept thinking how crazy this experience is. I’m sitting in a tiny paper airplane racing through the clouds at 500mph expecting a smooth ride. I am so insignificant right now, I thought. I gripped the arm rests harder and waited for the landing.

Per usual, everything was fine and we landed without a hitch. They did, however, announce an “unexpected plane change due to technical difficulties.” That reassured me that my sense of terror was reasonable since the plane was obviously broken and I’d barely escaped with my life. Phew. I wasn’t over-reacting.

When I finally saw my family and regaled them with my survival story, my dad’s first comment was “why were you scared?” Um, excuse me, would you like me to repeat the airplane in a metaphorical blender story? He said “no, but really, you shouldn’t be scared because there’s absolutely nothing you could do to change anything that would happen.” In the moment, I think I responded something along the lines of “well, I didn’t want to die and I was scared,” but later on it got me thinking about what fear really means.

Was I scared because I thought something might happen? Or was I scared because I had no ability to prevent  something from happening? My Dad’s theory is if you can’t do anything about the situation, then you shouldn’t be scared because it won’t help. While I understand this logic as it applies to worrying (as worrying never fixes anything), I’m not sure I believe it applies to fear. For me, my greatest moments of fear come from events and experiences that are out of my control. I am scared because I cannot control the situation or outcome. But should I be?

Is control the root of all fear? If we didn’t have this sense of an ability to control our lives, surroundings and relationships, would we ever have that fear when we seemingly lose our control? This is something I need to work on. In situations where my actions won’t affect an outcome, I need to have faith that they will be resolved. In reality, no matter what you are facing, there will be a resolution. It might not be the one you want, but in time all things are resolved. If you are religious, your inner peace of a higher power being in control should help dispel fear of the unknown. If you aren’t, previous life experience should reassure you that life goes on.

So maybe in the end my Dad was right- I shouldn’t be afraid of something I have no ability to control. Being scared didn’t bring me a sense of peace. Giving into my fear actually made the whole situation much, much worse. I can’t promise that all of these revelations I’ve shared will make me fear flying any less, but it is now my goal to try to find a peace when I’m on that airplane. I can’t control the weather, the plane or the pilots and if that plane goes down, there’s no way I’m stopping it. So all I can really do is enjoy the ride and hope for the best. And isn’t that what life as a whole is all about?


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