That's how it was for me returning from Florida on Monday. Well, how about two wings and quite a few prayers? As I said earlier, I hate to fly. On this trip, however, I found it a very mixed experience--and learned a few things that may help me cope with flying in the future.
While trying to eat breakfast about 6:45 a.m. and 30,000 feet above someplace between Rochester, NY and Atlanta, I spilled a drink onto myself and the passenger immediately to my right. In the process of frantically trying to clean us up with napkins and my handkerchief, my cap fell off into a puddle and I knocked my breakfast from the tray onto the floor. I amazed how well my fellow passenger took being doused. I didn't take it all nearly as well; after calming down I ruminated there in thirsty, hungry, humiliated silence, concluding that incorrigibly clumsy people like me should be forced to live in isolation booths where we can't harm others or ruin their day. In the Atlanta airport I had to take a subway train from my arrival gate to a departure gate several concourses away, dangling from a ceiling-mounted handstrap that would have been comfortable for someone 6+ feet tall (I'm barely 5 and a half feet). Between there and my gate a pushy Delta employee accosted me and tried to get me to fill out a survey form in exchange for a cheap plastic travel mug that said "Sky"--something on it, which almost caused me to be late for my connecting flight. But I did board in time, wondering what the next disaster would be.
From that point, though, my Florida adventure got steadily better. No problems between Atlanta and Jacksonville, and the visit with my family was GREAT! I hadn't seen my brother and his wife (who live in Norfolk) since they were married two and half years ago. I saw my parents and sister and her family (all of whom live in Jacksonville) this past April, but one can't get enough of their company--they're all such generous, fun-loving people! We had a tailgate party at my parents' house during the Florida-Georgia football game on Saturday, attended Mass and went out for breakfast Sunday morning, and had a cookout at my sister's that evening. In case you couldn't tell, eating--as well as joking around with each other--are our favorite family activities.
It was over all too soon, and I had to fly back to Rochester. No problems before or on the flight from Jacksonville to Atlanta; the seat beside mine was empty--that almost never happens anymore (or maybe my reputation as a spiller preceded me?). At the Atlanta airport I hung from the ceiling again on the subway and then schlepped myself and bags down to the farthest gate in the farthest concourse, as my ticket told me to do (in the process finding the answer to the ancient explorers' question, "What lies at the edge of the world?" -- "Gate T-10."). I had a well-deserved rest and a bit of lunch there before realizing, maybe 20 minutes before scheduled departure, that I still had that gate all to myself. Only when another confused-looking guy wandered in and looked up at an electronic sign over my head did I think to do so, whereupon I discovered that my departure gate had been moved several gates back up the concourse, without any other notice to me (you'd think that they could have announced that by loudspeaker, as they do incessantly for things you already know, like that you may not smoke in the airport). I was able to drag myself and stuff back down the concourse just in time to board the plane for Rochester.
This was where the flight experience began to take a positive turn for me. Up to this point I had spent most of my time in the air feeling lousy, as after the drink-spill fiasco, or in a semi-comatose state from tiredness. This time I was alert, but strangely relaxed. Perhaps it was because I now had a marvelous visit with my family to look back on, and had three-quarters of the flight business behind me. The plane was less crowded than before, and two small, impossibly cute, children were laughing and playing together nearby. The sun was drizzling gold on the puffy white clouds floating by outside my window, and I'd be back home soon. By and by I donned my iPod and put on a collection of hymns and classical pieces that I had added before my trip. As the plane sailed far above the earth, with the sweet strains of Nearer, My God, To Thee sounding in my ears, I felt an indescribable serenity within. Even when we encountered turbulence and the plane seemed to lose some altitude pretty quickly, I felt no fear--instead, I seemed to be held lovingly in God's arms, and knew assurance that whatever might happen would turn out happily. In my mind's eye I envisioned myself and my family soaring together like angels above and below the clouds, hand in hand, beholding the wonder of our Father's creation. For the first time in my life, I somewhat regretted the flight coming to an end. As a good old friend of mine commented on my previous "hate to fly" post, "you really are in the hands of the Maker! He carries you on eagles wings--metaphorically!" Amen.
Maybe I've conquered at least some of my anxiety about flying--or rather, have learned how to overcome it by putting my life in the Lord's hands. I wouldn't have grown in that way had I stayed snugly within my comfort zone. My next challenge will be to figure out how to cope with getting stranded, alone, in an airport far from home. I haven't actually had that experience yet (my children have, all too many times), but I think I fear it as much as being stranded in a tin can miles about the ground. I pray He'll find me in that hour of need, as well.
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While we're on the subject of a Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer, here's a delightful rendition of the World War Two song of that name (1943), by Harold Adamson and Jimmie McHugh) inspired by the true story of a heavily damaged B-17 limping back to base from a bombing run over Germany. The video is a great tribute to the thousands of men (boys, really) who flew into mortal danger in defense of civilization, and those who kept them in the air. They had a lot more to fear about flying than I do!