The first time I ever flew in an airplane I was in 4th grade. It was 1962 and we were moving to Washington, D.C. My father had gone out there several months ago to start a new job, and we were finally joining him. All our family was at the gate to wave goodbye to us. One of my younger cousins burst into tears as we boarded the plane. I was terribly excited and not afraid at all.
This was a propeller plane and it didn’t fly nearly as high as passenger jets do now. I don’t really remember that much about the flight itself, but I do remember the descent into the Washington area. We flew very low for quite some time, right above the tree tops, it seemed. It was fun to be able to see everything going on below, but my mother was terrified. She sat there trying to physically hold the plane together with a tight grip on the seat in front of us. It was one of the first instances I remember not being sure that my mother’s reaction was correct.
Of course, since then I’ve flown many, many times, including a few occasions on private airplanes. Once in Central America, I flew on a very, very small airplane, amid heavy fog and steep mountains. I knew it was dangerous, but so were the few overland routes to our destination. The mountains were misty and beautiful when we could see them, and I wasn’t afraid.
Another time some friends that were starting up a seafood delivery service offered to fly us from Nashville, where I was living at the time, to St. Louis. We flew along rivers and highways, using grain towers and highway intersections as guideposts. It was lots of fun, but I didn’t enjoy their demonstration of how the plane could dive, and made them promise not to repeat that trick!
And then, I became a mother. My life suddenly had a meaning and a purpose unlike anything I had every experienced before. I had to be there, on earth, to take care of my babies. I became fearful of many things, and one of those things was flying.
I knew my fear was irrational, but that didn’t help. I didn’t refuse to fly, but I hated it, especially take-off and landing. While in flight I would scan the faces of the stewardesses when the engine noises or our altitude changed, for signs of unease. As long as they looked calm, I was okay, although sometimes I thought they were hiding their true feelings.
This state of affairs continued until we moved to Asia. I wanted to go, and I also wanted to be able to return to the US for visits, and go on vacations while we were overseas, all of which involved very long international flights. It’s very hard to maintain a state of vigilance and fear for 16 hours straight. I gradually began to overcome my fear of flying. As mysteriously as it had begun, it also began to dissipate. It helped that my children were now grown, I suppose, but I realize that it still doesn’t really make sense.
We have friends that live on a small airstrip in Lakeway, Texas. On my recent trip to Austin they offered to take me up in one of their airplanes. In the past I had always hesitated, or flat-out refused, but this time I was ready. Up I went!
It was beautiful and fun. Phil is an excellent pilot. Our takeoff and landing were very smooth. I could see the gorgeous Texas Hill Country spreading out below me for miles and miles. It’s the prettiest part of Texas, and you can see why from these pictures!
We landed quietly and smoothly. It was fun to see the landing strip come into view; hear the engine noise disappear as we glided to a stop. I emerged from the plane triumphantly. I did it, and I wasn’t scared at all. It felt like I had come a full circle, from that first flight to Washington, D.C., many years before.
This doesn’t mean I’m about to take up bungee jumping. I’m still a fairly timid person and heights in some situations still make me feel dizzy. But, flying? In a small plane?
I’m ready to go again, whenever I get the chance!