Fear of Flying
Air travel and roller coasters have something in common that keeps me in love with them.
In both cases, we voluntarily turn our lives over to a piece of metal designed and operated by fallible human beings. Sometimes, rarely though, something goes tragically awry. Not to take away from the loss of life or limb encountered by the Fates, but the fact is that most of the time, nothing bad happens.
It’s not the fear of the possibilities that attracts me to these things, though. It’s not the inherent risk associated with traveling 35,000 feet in the air or strapping yourself in to a metal car hugging rails and propelled by hydraulics and gravity.
It is the fact that for either a brief moment, or for a few hours, I get to give up control. I have to trust that the guy who built the rollercoaster and the 16-year-old operating it have things under control. I have to assume that the pilot in the cockpit isn’t a suicidal functional drunk and that his co-pilot has landed the plane at least once by himself just in case…
But really, I love the idea that just for a moment, I don’t have to make everything work. I don’t need to know what to do next or to worry about how everything works. I just have to trust that it does. I’m the passenger. I’m not responsible for anything other than making sure I’m on the right plane, on the right ride. I love the feeling of knowing that, if only for a moment, I can let go.
And for brief moments of my life, because trust is something I give frugally, I am forced to trust in the fate of my ride. I like the idea that someone else is in control and will make decisions to affect the best outcome possible; that the plane will avoid storms and turbulence and that if one system fails there’s another to back it up, and that flight attendants can handle any situation that might arise in the cabin and that there might just be an air Marshall somewhere around, and if not there’s probably a doctor. And if not, I watch enough Grey’s Anatomy to successfully perform a tracheotomy and/or survive a plane crash. I like the idea of knowing that someone else far more brave than me tested the rollercoaster before they opened it; that somewhere someone’s job is to figure out how to amuse human beings with velocity and inversions. I love the crowd mentality associated with roller coasters and airplanes. Thousands upon thousands of people get on and off these things every day and still they are seen as something to be feared. Rationally feared.
Airplanes and rollercoasters remind me that the things in life to be feared are much more subtle. Complacency in life; settling for less than you deserve or are capable of. Those things should be feared. Living the same day 365 times and calling it a year. That should be feared. Getting on airplanes but never going anywhere significant, with anyone significant… that should be feared.
But as for airplanes and rollercoasters…
Enjoy the ride.