Up, Up, and No Way
I am mid panic attack.
Flying has never been my favorite pastime, but until recently, it was doable. However, after an intensely turbulent airplane experience coming home from vacation a couple of months ago, stepping onto a plane has become increasingly more difficult. Being an out of towner, this is a discomfort that I cannot avoid, which makes the sudden panic attacks all the more grueling.
I am well aware that flying is one of the safest modes of transportation but, however statistically safe airplanes are, nothing feels more dangerous than being thrown around like a pair of dice in the open air.
My in-flight experience consists of gripping armrests and obsessively muttering Tefillat Haderech. While my peers enjoy movies and sleep, I sit, eyes wide, contemplating how they can sit so still in the midst of such chaos. By the time my plane touches down, I am too emotionally and physically drained to be tense any longer.
My best friend’s birthday is this weekend and to celebrate, she requested we take a trip to Montreal, Canada. When I brought up the idea to my parents, they suggested I fly there. Just the thought of having to get on a plane before the end of the year made my heart pound. But thanks to my years in therapy, I knew that anxiety feeds on avoidance: if I drove, I would never confront my fear. For days leading up to the flight, I worked on identifying what really made me so nervous about flying.
The notion of control is so powerful.
In a previous article, I had written about my dream of skydiving. It is strange to think that in my mind, jumping out of a plane is more secure than sitting in one. It all boils down to a sense of control.
I was never nervous to drive. Since the first day I got my license, I was ready to hit the road. Though driving is undeniably dangerous, I felt that behind the wheel, I was somehow safer since I was in control. However, Judaism teaches us that humans control is finite. There are certain things that are within our control, and there are certain precautions we can take to keep ourselves safe, but ultimately, G-d rules the world.
Deep down I knew I would land safely as I had done hundreds of times before. The true discomfort lied not in the notion of crashing, but in the idea of having no say in the matter. Putting your life completely in the hands of a greater power is incredibly difficult, but, with tireless effort and focus, it can be equally empowering.
On my flight back to New York at the end of my long weekend, I tried to actualize this change in perspective. At each bump and dip, I worked to envision G-d holding up the plane. I associated this comforting image with the anxious thoughts I had been feeling regarding my upcoming flight. I found that the more I concentrated on this idea, the more I was able to relax. The frequent turbulence that once caused me so much panic felt like nothing more than potholes in the road. True, I still had little control over my situation, but I found solace in the knowledge that something much greater had taken the wheel.
I may never be a happy flier, but this change in perspective has made the trip a little easier. Everyday we step on the subway or cross the street, we are putting our faith in mere human beings: traffic cops, drivers, and pedestrians alike. It is the least we can do to extend this same faith in the One who created us. It is a leap full of bumps and dips, but I promise it’s worth the journey.