‘We shouldn’t be up here.’
No matter how hard I try to keep it at bay, the thought won’t stop coming back to me. Like a mosquito in a darkened room as you’re trying to fall asleep, every time you think you’ve nailed it with a wild flail it comes back with an insistent vengeance. Not just an insect. Not just a wild, ephemeral phantom patiently lusting after the blood that rushes through your veins. But a buzzing, irritating reminder of something much worse: the limits of control.
We like to think that we are in control. That we exercise total agency over our path through life. Or at least a significant amount of agency. Rarely does that feel more like the brazen lie that it is than when we surrender ourselves to flight. At least to me. I’m about to turn thirty-one. I’ve been flying my entire life with nary a feeling of apprehension or fear or panic. Like so many people I was loaded onto a plane and shot through the sky before I was even old enough to possibly comprehend what was going on. The pressure changes and the noises likely made me cry and scream, but the sheer violent juxtaposition of a tube of metal propelling ground-based mammals through the sky—the total surrender of agency of the act—never troubled my little brain.
Until, like, last year.
‘We shouldn’t be up here.’
I don’t know what changed. But suddenly this banal process became a terrifying experience. Not all of it. Just take-off. The moment the plane tips upwards and I feel the lurch as the ground falls away, the spectre of imminent death suddenly rides with me. Sat there in that plane, undertaking a multitude of mental exercises designed to calm the mind down, striving for serenity, I occasionally think I’ve swatted the damn thing. Reminding myself how safe I actually am, that though I might lack control I am statistically far safer than in almost any other mode of transport. And sometimes it briefly feels like I’ve finally put that mosquito bastard down. Eradicated the alien noise disturbing the peaceful void. But no, it always comes back. And the more I’m convinced I’ve walloped it good the harder it socks me in the face when it comes back. It’s a deep, visceral thing and it can’t be reasoned with.
‘We shouldn’t be up here. The human race wasn’t meant to fly.’
The thought builds in intensity and frequency as the plane trundles forwards along the tarmac, turning this way and that, aligning itself an innumerable amount of times while I sit there, essentially clueless as to what’s going on. It doesn’t help that it feels as if it’s indecisive. Like it doesn’t know yet in which direction it wants to leap into the sky. And then it makes up its mind and then that roar as it gathers speed. Then, helplessness. And I try and make peace with my demons. I try to stare into the eternal night without blinking. I think, ‘Could I turn my phone off airplane mode and send a message to someone quickly enough before the flames took us all?’
And then the plane levels out and I’m mostly fine. It does take effort to maintain my composure, but it’s orders of magnitude easier than during take-off. Unless turbulence hits. Then the Grim Reaper plops himself down on my lap again and grins. A friend of mine suggested to me that the way to think of turbulence is like little stones on a gravel road while driving in a car. You don’t let that unnerve you. So errant air shouldn’t. And that helps a bit. What doesn’t help is seeing clips like this:
British Airways flight to Gibraltar battered by extreme turbulence, a passenger filmed it from his seat. Pilot turned around and landed in Málaga instead. from r/gifs
And a view from the ground:
THAT’S GREAT, THANKS. I’M NEVER LEAVING TERRA FIRMA AGAIN.
Header Image Source: Reddit