“Fear is only as deep as the mind allows.” Japanese Proverb
To live in fear is to live in prison. We all have fears and I’m adamant about not living in fear. However, I do have a crippling fear that sends me into a claustrophobic frenzy when I think about it. I have an acute fear of flying. I have had this fear ever since I can remember. My father use to like watching planes landing at the airport. He would pile all of the kids into the car and drive to the airport and park the car in the direct path of oncoming planes. All of us would sit on the hood of the car and watch the planes fly over. I can remember stretching my arms out thinking I could touch the enormous jets because that’s how close the plane felt to me. My father would laugh at my reaching out, but I can remember thinking I like watching them but I don’t want to fly in one. I was six years old and I knew I didn’t like to fly even though I had never been on a plane. I was terrified on my first plane ride and equally terrified on my last plane ride. When my mother died, I had to fly back to Toronto for the funeral and I actually considered not going, that’s how much of a hold the fear of flying has on me. I hate it – I hate to admit to defeat but I have learned to go with the flow when it comes to flying. It takes every ounce of energy for me to get on the plane and when I finally get to my seat, the first thing I do is put on my seat belt, grip the arms of the seat like it’s the last earthly object I will hold on to and I don’t move from the seat until the plane lands. I flew back for my mother’s funeral and after everything was said and done, I was thankful that I did not let my fear overcome and stop me from being with my siblings during an incredibly important time.
I am an empath – I feel and sense people’s emotions sometimes emotions people don’t even know they are feeling. I read between the lines of the artificial surface small talk most people deliver. I am not a small talker – in fact small talk bores me to tears and I have no patience for it. My patience level for small talk is pushed to extreme when I’m flying and trying to cope with my internal fears. I never tell people I have this fear so in fairness to some of the souls I have sat with while flying – they have no idea as I suffer in silence. One trait an empath has is that people will bare their souls to them and that happens to me all the time. People will tell me things about their lives and then tell me when the conversation is over, they have no idea why they just indulged in that conversation with me. I’ve flown many times and I’ve heard all kinds of life stories during my flying time. Usually I am a great listener but I have to be honest, when I’m sitting in a chair gripping the arms with all my might and someone is going on about their life, I find it hard to listen because my head is bursting with the thought “don’t you get it, we are all going to die.” I smile and nod and pretend like I really care all the while trying to talk myself into the fact that flying thousands of feet in the air in a bloody tin can is really safe, safer than driving my car.
One such flight I sat beside a Japanese man and I noticed right away by his body language and eye contact that although he was a gentle soul, he wasn’t into small talk and I sensed I would be left alone to wallow in my fearful thoughts. I usually try to read a book while flying but it can be difficult for me to focus and I have to go back and re-read lines and chapters as comprehension can be difficult when I’m fearing for my life. During this flight I did my usual thing, sat down, fastened my seatbelt and immediately held on to the chair arms with a death grip and dug my nails in even further during takeoff and once we were settled in the air and everyone removed their seat belts, I left mine fastened, I pulled out my book and tried to focus on the words on the page. The man beside me never said a word, he seemed to be pre-occupied with business reports he was going over when we hit some turbulence and I dropped the book and held on the arms of the chair with a death grip. It was then that he leaned into me, held my hand and said – “don’t worry this plane is not going to crash and you are going to be fine.” In all the years of flying it was the first time anyone ever acknowledged my fear. I smiled at him and said “easy for you to say.” He laughed and said “when the drink cart comes, let me buy you a drink.” I declined as I never drink alcohol on the plane, I find it makes me worse rather than better. I just sit until it’s all over and feel incredibly thankful that I’m alive and well when I walk off the plane. During that flight, we hit a lot of turbulence and every time the turbulence was particularly violent, he would grab my hand and hold it until the turbulence passed. He and I never exchanged names, we sat mostly in silence, he never told me his life story, he just held my hand when I needed to feel his protection.
To this day I think about him every time I have to fly by myself and how his simple gestures helped me through my fears during a particular difficult flight and the thought calms me. His awareness of my fear and the pure, honest and simple connection was an incredibly powerful human interaction between souls, a connection that I have never felt again with a stranger. However, I have never forgotten that connection and some how thinking of that connection when I fly brings me a little bit of peace and comfort. He didn’t fill my mind with small talk, he filled my body and soul with a rare and simple human interaction – love and empathy toward another human being who is in a crisis. I realized after that flight, his name didn’t matter, we didn’t need to exchange names as his simple gestures to calm me and the gratitude I showed him when I held his gaze during the turbulence was all that was needed during a unique interaction between two souls.