Please, Let Me Be Afraid of Flying!

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When the conversation turns to “If you could be anyone, who would you be?” my response is “John Madden.”  Male heads turn:  Does a woman want to be a football coach?  Nope.  I want his motor coach.  When I say “Aretha Franklin” it is erroneously assumed I want to sing Soul.  Uh-uh.  I want to be blessed with her mode of transportation.  Both of these well-known people are afraid to fly.

I am one of those cursed to walk planet earth because her feet need at all times to be planted on it.  Terra firma is my middle name.  Like Madden and Franklin, I suffer from “fear of flying,” the affliction deemed a weakness rather than what it is—an illness.  And over-rated at that.  It’s really nobody’s business and no big deal.

“Can’t you just take a pill?” people ask me as if I have spoiled the party for the rest of the world population because I don’t want to float around 30,000 feet in the air.  Yeah, I can.  But once aboard I surrender and go into a coma without the need for medication to slide me into one.  I am one of those (I know you are all out there!) who would have to start popping those pills from the moment the merest rumblings of a discussion about a flight reservation began.  I’d have to live on whatever is the current trendy form of Valium, and since I only travel by choice, for vacation, why put myself through it?

“You’re claustrophobic,” some folks conclude.  No.  “Do you have a fear of heights?” others ask.  Not especially.  “It’s about needing to be in control.  You’re probably always the one to drive the car, too,” most assume.  That’s not it either.  Let’s keep this as simple as it really is:  I’m good grounded.

Lord knows I’ve tried.  I’ve flown to Europe three times with my family, the first two times so I wouldn’t be the pooper who doesn’t go on vacation with parents and sibling, the third, to bury my mother’s ashes in Ireland, and not infect my own daughters with their mother’s fear. 

Boldly, I looked imminent destruction in the eye and braved the friendly skies.  Unlike my mother who sat next to me fingering rosary beads and whispering novenas all the way from LAX to Charles de Gaulle, I was the mother who bestowed the ultimate gift on her children.  I remained cool and casual. No screaming, no crying, no gripping seat handles, not so much as the drumming of fingers on the tray table.  Not a living soul knew of my desperation until shortly before my 60th birthday, after decades of swallowing high anxiety and purchasing umpteen boarding passes to the afterlife.  At last secure in the knowledge that my adult daughters were untainted and soaring all over the universe like geese, I announced, having deplaned from a visit and fighting the urge to kiss the terminal tile, “I’m retiring.” 

But the delusional, who think it’s perfectly normal to tempt fate, won’t let it go.  “Statistics prove that air travel is safer than driving,” silly people who think I’ve never heard this platitude still try to convince me.  They fail to realize the key ingredient in any phobia:  Abject fear has nothing to do with logic, reality, or proof of either.  No matter which self-help course I enroll in or what any Doctor of Psychology intervenes to inform that my intellect understands, every time I look skyward to see a major airline cruising among the clouds I observe the vulnerability of all those little passengers, way up there, blithely walking down the center aisle to use the restroom, a thin sheet of metal between them and oblivion.  No reassurance exists to combat that reality.

“But now we can never go to far away places together!” family members whine.  “How far must one go to be happy?” I return their challenge.  “Is there any place left that is really all that unique?  MacDonald’s or Starbucks is on every corner, no matter where you go.”  By the way, all you victims of Aviophobia abuse, I never win this debate.

Meanwhile, as far as I know, celebrity idols are never mocked for what in my case is deemed mania.  It’s perfectly acceptable for a performer or sportscaster to roll across the country on wheels—it even becomes part and parcel of their scintillating story, what makes them more human, more like us.  Or, I remind, like me.

The very same people who would have me committed to a lifetime of therapy think how committed is Mr. Madden for making his way across this great nation, like some pioneer in a covered wagon, so he can get to the next football game!  How crazy that Kathleen refuses to fly!  He is heralded, while I?  Well, I’m nothing but an airhead.


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