Flying frequently has taught me something. I don’t like it. And that’s putting it mildly. I’m absolutely, unapologetically terrified of every aspect of it. I’ve tried everything. Hypnosis, shrinks, those little blue pills that make you feel like you don’t exist. I’ve even tried this thing called Timeline Therapy. Nothing worked. Booze works passably if I’m willing to get drunk. And when i say drunk, I mean the “very” variety of drunk. And normally before that can happen, the poor flight attendant has to cut me off because… well.. Add alcohol to fear and nine times out of ten you get belligerence. I hate to admit it. And honestly I never remember it that way but I rarely travel alone and this is pretty much the par-for-the-course story everybody tells me later when they’re no longer afraid of me punching the living daylights out of them in a boozy, fear-induced rampage. Oh they sugar coat it. I am “hilarious”, “hardcore”, “off the hook”, “Sassy” (I like that one. I’m a sassy drunk.) but unless someone specifically says “Dude, you don’t seem drunk at all.” assume that you not only seem drunk, you’re probably really annoying about it to boot. It’s pretty much a fact of adult life that the only person who enjoys a drunk is another drunk.
It’s pretty embarrassing. Especially when it gets to the point when you need to enter an airport already staggering with a doctor’s note pinned to your chest saying “Prescription drunk”. Yes this is a thing and Yes I have that note. It is framed on my bathroom wall alongside a note from a Ferrari owner who felt insulted because I had the audacity to park my shitbox VW next to him at a fair. It may very well be the best example of New Money I have ever seen.
People will say all kinds of weird shit to you when you’re afraid. I remember once sitting next to a pilot who told me that the statistics on plane crashes are lower than the statistics of winning the lottery. I said I didn’t care what the statistics were. And anyway, I ride the mothership of statistically improbable events (including but not limited to actually winning a thousand dollar lottery prize at the age of seven and randomly running into a childhood friend while traveling in Turkey) He went on to assure me that if i just understood how planes worked… I told him I understood perfectly the physics of flight. After all, I once tried to become a pilot. I just don’t like it.
The best people to sit with on scary flights are religious professionals. At least for me. Because I understand the science behind it and I am still not reassured, I’m pretty much ready to give myself over to the Almighty at this point, drunk-for-Jesus style. I am not a religious person but I’m not an atheist either. The truth is that I am ready-made for purgatory. Don’t worry, religious people, I’ve made peace with this. And I know when my number is finally called, regardless of what the universe has in store for me next, I’ll be babbling to some random deity to take pity on my asshole self and not send me into a pit of fire (or worse, make me do THIS shit all over again). My religious professionals of choice are Buddhists. They’re rare to find on a flight in North America but my shitting christ do they ever make you feel better. They don’t even try to tell you everything will be ok. They just tell you everything is irrelevant. Nothing matters, yes. Very reassuring. Best part? They don’t even believe in purgatory or, perhaps more accurately, they think we’re already there. So no harm, no foul in their minds. Fear makes a person very open to suggestion. So does alcohol. It’s really the perfect situation.
I used to think i was just afraid of the state of being airborne. That the idea of a wingless human body being aloft being somehow just simply intellectually obscene is a nice excuse for fear. I’d like to tell you that’s why I hate flying. I’d like to tell you that it’s nothing more than a simple fear of heights. I’d like to tell you that very much.
But I suppose it would be a lie. The truth is that I’m afraid of being ALONE. Dying is about as alone as a person gets, isn’t it? Even in a crowded death-tube surrounded by the screaming doomed, you are still alone. You may be living together but you will die alone. I don’t know much about death. I’ve never experienced it. But one thing I’m fairly certain of is that at the moment when you meet eternity, you’re doing it solo. And there is nothing like the idea of facing your own mortality to remind you that the whole “we’re all in this together” bullshit is actually just a band-aid on the painful wound of the “we all walk our own solitary path” reality. And it may be selfish but, in a way, a plane crash is about as social a death as anyone can ever hope to have. So ironically, if i have to die someday (and i’m still young and arrogant enough to assume there might be an option I just haven’t seen yet.) a plane crash would probably be the best way to go.
But it’s more than that really. I’m afraid to fly mostly because I can’t see the man running the show. There is this mysterious entity who I get a quick peek at when i’m waiting at the gate. And then another quick peek at when i’m boarding, surrounded by a control panel twelve times the size of god which reassures me NOT AT ALL. And being a very show-me kind of person, I like to be able to see the driver when I’m a passenger. I like to know that the person in charge of my future has as many reasons to preserve it as I do. I want desperately to refute the dismal knowledge that (you guessed it) I’m alone.
It was a hard thing to admit. At first I told nobody. Finally I started admitting it to a few choice people “Yeah man, it turns out i’m afraid to fly because I’m not ready to admit that I walk alone.” – It sounds theological, mystical and more than a bit insane. Sometimes I tell myself that it even sounds like something a hero would say.. on the edge of a great adventure. But the truth of the matter is.. that fear is nothing more than the stamp of mediocrity. It’s why anyone is afraid of anything. Isn’t it? Admit it. Your seemingly pointless fear of lettuce (yes it’s a thing.) somehow leads down a completely irrational road that ends in your untimely and lonely death. It’s the same reason so many of us fear the unknown. It’s an unfriendly place. It reminds us that we’re really the only thing in existence that we can be certain DOES exist. Change, the unknown, the unfamiliar is a painful reminder that time and space coddle nobody. There is no guarantee in life when it comes to things staying the same. In fact, there is a pretty clear guarantee that nothing does. And that includes life itself. And I don’t know about you, but to me? That’s a pretty shitty deal we’ve got.
We’re all alone. And I suppose that’s how it should be. We’re all alone because we maintain the illusion that we are separate from stuff. I am not trying to spark any sort of philosophical nonsense here. Or.. maybe I am and my definition of philosophy is too narrow. I don’t know. I just get this overwhelming sense that everything really is going to be ok. Granted, I normally get this sense when everything IS ok. And, I don’t know, maybe that negates its validity. But even that’s ok.
And who knows.. maybe there really is something to all that. After all, I wrote this in the air.