On Living and Dying Day 1 by Chaitanya Poole

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.

Machines break.

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:


Car crash




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

About the author

Maybe one day I’ll be like Dumbledore, making the right decisions in every situation that comes up, but for now I just try to be better than the day before, hoping that others will forgive the mistakes I’ve made along the way, and hoping that I can walk remembering that, as Dr. King said, “In the final analysis, what God requires is that your heart is right. Salvation isn’t reaching the destination of absolute morality, but it’s being in the process and on the right road.”


  1. As serious as the topic may be, I’m just happy to finally have a post from my sister up in the dungeon. Thanks so much for sharing your experience with all of us. I’m sure that many can relate. So glad to kick off this new event with your words. Yey!

  2. Very nice! Clear and precise writing. We should all try to live while we’re alive. On another note, this made me cry cause I could hear Chaitanya’s voice and I miss you guys.

  3. This is such a strong and heartfelt write. I could picture your fear and paranoia that we feel once we come so close to death. To have the courage to be able to move beyond fear is commendable. Thank you so much for sharing this post with us Chaitanya 🙂 You’re one brave soul.

    Lots of love,

  4. Well done. I didn’t fly for the first time until my late 20’s. Then I had a job where I had to fly quite regularly. I never got used to it. Although I don’t fly much these days, I have the same thoughts about it as you do. I am convinced each time I board a plan that this will be it. And there are moments of small panic about it that eventually settle into an odd sort of calm.

    What I fear about death is that it will come before I am ready for it to show up. I want another 30 years and than I’ll be okay with whatever is.

  5. Hello Chaitanya,

    It is great to meet another Poole! While I have not had a flying experience similar to yours, I have been in situations that could have been fatal. My fears and process seem eerily like your own. Thank you for giving me something to chew on, to see my issues out out in front of me to digest and integrate.



  6. I can’t help it. I have to say it. I am so proud of Sreejit and Chaitanya I could burst!

  7. What an incredible surprise it was to wake up and see that Chaitanya had written the first article for the Living and Dying series. You did a beautiful job of writing it Chaitanya. Every part of your post has value and is worthy of reflection.

  8. Oh my Gosh. You GREW UP SO GOOD!!!! I’m tickled to have known you as a little girl. No wonder both your parents are so proud of you.

    As for what you wrote, I just told your Mom, I am speechless. Beautifully written. I was right there with you and though I had decided not to join in on this venture, you have inspired me. Thanks for sharing. Thanks for being brave up there in the air. Thanks for being so wise. With Love, your former “auntie”

  9. Reblogged this on Living, Learning and Letting Go and commented:

    I knew that Sreejit’s “On Living and Dying” series would start this morning but I had no idea his first guest author was going to be Chaitanya! She wrote an excellent post entitled “To Fear or to Fly.”

  10. Wow, it’s not just Sreejit with astonishing writing talent in the family. Shoulda guessed that from the plays you put together.

  11. My fear of dying is based on the fact that I am the sole caretaker of my 92 year old father. I can’t predecease him as problem as to who will get him into a facility as have no relatives except a son and I don’t have much confidence in his ability there and my daughter is a drug addict parts unknown.

  12. Pure human emotions. I think many of us share these fears at some point in our lives.
    Thank you for starting this series, Sreejit!
    This is a beautiful thing!

  13. Beautiful writing, i like your honesty!
    As far as i’m concerned,i never thought i could be afraid of flying.
    Yet, on one of those flights back from Kerala, i remember being so sick
    and discovering that deep down i felt so anguished and afraid of dying.
    Ever since those couple of odd flights, it is getting better now, but the anguish is still here.
    Thanks a lot!

  14. Chai! This is beautiful, loved reading it! Sreejit, this is going to be a cool series, can’t wait for the next one!!!!

  15. I can so identify with your reaction to flying. I don’t know why, if we are right with God, we should be afraid of death. But you said it, it is not the fear of death, but of pain, disease and suffering.

  16. Thanks for writing this Chaitanya.. actually you and I have discussed this topic a lot and have gone through a lot of the same emotions about flying (although i didn’t endure such an incident as this to act as a catalyst for my fear!). I like the meditation/ visualization that you do – i’m going to try it.. i hope to see more thought provoking articles from you here 😉

  17. This is a lovely piece. And this line is marvelous: “It’s not death I fear. It’s the possibility of pain.” Because that’s what bothers me. My sister fears death. I never have. But what might happen right before death–yeah, that bothers me.

  18. Oh my!! what a delight to read a post written by Sreejit`s sister. How cool is that!! I enjoyed reading this experience in your voice, your experience. Your mom had shared her experience and reading yours, I felt I was right there with the two of you…well, maybe a fly on the wall. You are wise beyond your years my dear. I feared death until my children were old enough to take care of themselves. Again, a great post!! Hope to see you visit her now and then.

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