On 37,000 feet above

Not all those who wander are lost.

JRR Tolkien

Considering that I am afraid of heights, one might think it ironic I love to fly. I’ve had anxiety attacks on steep or high escalators due to my fear, which is worse going up than down. I feel like I’m free falling, and if you see me gripping the handrail, you’ll know we’ve passed one floor up because once we go above 10 feet the fear hits me. I don’t like Ferris wheels, I don’t like downhill skiing because of the chair lifts, and gondola rides are hit or miss. I’m not going to be one to race to try the new Skyliner at Disney (trust me, you wouldn’t want to be in my car if we get stuck in one for hours; okay, even minutes). I had a full blown panic attack on the edge of the Southern trail of the Grand Canyon a couple of years ago, on a small path just a few feet wide with a cliff drop of thousands of feet on my right and a steep hill to my left. There are no railings. Insanity! In retrospect, I should’ve said “no” because I know my fear and my triggers; it’s real, no matter what others think, but I caved to peer pressure. So as I sit 37,000 feet in the air flying over the Atlantic, you may wonder how I’m calm (it’s not the gin, for sure). As one of my previous students who had no love of flying told me once, you’re trapped in an aluminum can thousands of feet above the ground hurtling at high speeds. Why aren’t you scared?

As my life now involves anywhere from 30-50% travel across the country and the globe, it’s probably a good thing that I don’t mind racking up hours in the air. Our youth shapes us in many ways, and probably my early years were the most contributory to my love of flight. The first 8 years of my life I spent moving about the world as a military brat. I was born in the south, lived on the Gulf of Mexico in Florida, then the Netherlands, before settling in the Northeast. I remember being around the jets on the bases and thinking one day I’d love to be a pilot. (Unfortunately, I was told when I inquired in high school with recruitment officers that I was ineligible because of my poor eyesight). I try to catch the Blue Angels and their feats of acrobatics when possible (I saw them last in San Francisco during Fleet Week in 2018. Just incredible). So one might say it’s in my blood.

Today, I thrill at the rush of take off. But it’s not because there’s a burning desire to be a pilot. It’s the anticipation of going to explore a new place, of experiencing aspects of a favored destination, or of returning to the place where my heart lives. It’s travel to be intellectually stimulated, to inspire creativity, to push the envelope, to see the beauty of the world, and at times to see those whom I love in it. I drink it all in and revel in this life, these chances, these opportunities. And as we lift off, I feel the whimsy of my soul opening up to possibilities. Because isn’t that one of the best things about life? If you open yourself up, you never know what may be waiting for you.

Crescent moon just after sunset from 35,000 feet above.

6 thoughts on “On 37,000 feet above

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