To Fear or To Fly
by Chaitanya Poole
I used to take flying for granted, 35,000 feet in the air and nothing to do but relax. Then, on a trip from Singapore to India, just as the flight crew were in the process of picking up the lunch dishes, the plane shook violently and dropped 10,000 feet in a matter of seconds.
As my stomach fell up into my throat, this is what I remember most:
The face of the stewardess, frozen with shock and fear.
For a few seconds after the initial drop the plane evened out, but just as relief became a conscious emotion the plane began a nosedive straight towards the great blue. The oxygen masks fell down and we all rushed to put them on. I leaned over and asked my mom in hopeful ignorance:
“Has this ever happened to you before?”
“No” was her answer.
Other than my wishful question, the plane was completely silent.
As I looked out the window and watched the ocean getting closer I just kept thinking, “Am I really going to die?”
I chanted the name of God and there was solace in the thought.
Though I was afraid, I was too confused and in denial to be terrified. That would come later.
Eventually, after diving another 15,000 feet, the plane leveled off.
A voice came over the intercom.
“Everything is fine.”
Then, “everyone, please stay on board.”
At least you got to hand it to them for the comic relief.
We turned around and flew back to Singapore at 10,000 feet; the water looked close enough to touch.
After landing we found out what had happened. There had been a fire somewhere, which caused a loss in cabin pressure, thus the drop to a breathable altitude.
Three days later we boarded another flight to Kerala.
Now one thing was for sure:
I no longer took the plane for granted.
This time, realization hit me like a wave.
I was in a machine.
That machine was thousands of feet above land.
I could die.
In this moment, my own mortality became real. I was terrified. I could feel the emptiness beneath my feet, the thin layer of metal blocking me from plunging to my death.
Obviously, I didn’t die. We made it to India, and 3 months later back to the U.S. But the fear of flying, the fear of death, was firmly established.
I had some serious decision making to do.
I had two homes, one in the U.S., and one in India. Unfortunately there was only one way to travel in between.
I became obsessed with airplane crashes, and would scour the news in search of them. Putting myself in their circumstances I would imagine what it would have been like to be a passenger aboard, what I would have felt, what I would have thought.
With death so real, how could I board a plane again? But what was the alternative? To lead a life I didn’t want to lead, a life ruled by fear?
That is when I began a sort of “death meditation”. In my mind I would sit aboard that plane and imagine dying. For some reason, miraculously, these thoughts gave me comfort. Not a comfort of pleasure, but one of acceptance. After all, all that lives dies.
This incident was 20 years ago. I am still afraid to fly. I still consider each time I board a plane (about 10 times a year), that this may be “it.” But it’s easier now. Because I’ve grown spiritually, you might wonder? Unfortunately no. I think the truth is, as the memory of that day begins to fade, I have just begun to take the machine for granted again.
My fears are more vast and varied now. I imagine dying in so many ways:
You name it.
If I decide to blame my fears on something (because sometimes that feels good), then I blame it on the “news.” I mean really, can it possibly be healthy to receive so much information?
Getting back to the point. From all of the above I deduce this:
It’s not death I fear. It’s the possibility of pain.
But pain is everywhere in life… not just in dying.
And since we are on the topic of pain, what about suffering?
When I think about all the suffering in the world I feel like I’m suffocating. It’s everywhere. The agony, the despair…
So in actual death I can imagine:
In the end, after all the philosophizing is over, the fact remains the same:
Death is inevitable.
And so I figure, since it is inevitable… while I live…
I should live.
Written for the On Living and Dying series. If you’d like to be a part of the challenge, find more info here: 365 Days On Living and Dying. But first leave a comment and let my sister, Chaitanya, know how you feel about what she said.
Featured image via http://www.allwallpaper.in