When I was a young child, I would watch the white contrails of the planes in the sky fantasizing about being a traveller one day and exploring this world near and far. Airplane travel represented the ultimate grand adventure to someone who had never been more than a 100 miles from home.
When I graduated from university, I found my hero in a fictional book character. One of my favourite books became Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. The book’s appeal was in the female lead character Dagny Taggart. Strong, independent, with her moral integrity intact – I wanted to be just like her. Dagny could fly an airplane – even the earth did not limit her – and so I wanted fly as well.
I’ve been fortunate in my life to have been able to realize most of my dreams and so much more. I have travelled extensively and long embraced a lifestyle of trying new things. Although I never did learn to fly a plane, I’ve explored many airborne activities like skydiving, parasailing and hang gliding. All were awesome experiences – in the truest sense of the word – that made my heart race from the excitement and left me with a sense of breathlessness.
The irony in all of this is that I discovered I’m not particularly fond of flying. Regardless of the many times I’ve flown, it continues to be a white knuckle experience that leaves me with a blistering headache and a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I’ve been prone to anxiety attacks and on one occasion – when I was seven months pregnant with son #2 – was removed from an airplane while we sat on the runway readying for take-off. One of the attendants became overly concerned by my distress, fearing I was going into premature labour. It was really just me trying to resist the urge to either throw-up or faint – normal for most take-offs and landings. The experience was quite mortifying. Picture a blimp of a woman being removed from the plane while all the businessmen were looking at their watches knowing that the delay would make them late for their meetings.
As I get older, my appreciation for terra firma grows, so there was an alarm bell that went off in my head when son #1 began to show an interest in flying. Like his mother before him, I believed the urge would pass … but it didn’t. I had only reluctantly resolved myself to the fact he drove a car and now my stomach would knot at the mere thought of him behind the controls of a plane. The stories he would tell during the learning process did not calm my nerves.
As a show of support for his new hobby, we did fly with him one cold autumn day after he had finally got his license. I recognize his passion for flying and his competence as a pilot, but it was not a comfortable experience. This was my baby about to fly a plane that didn’t look much bigger than a tin can … and surely the motor on my kitchen blender was more powerful than the engine of this little puddle jumper. The grassy ‘tarmac’ and primitive runway did not help. I was shivering uncontrollably from more than the cold.
I’ve resigned myself to this love-hate relationship with flying – it is a necessary evil that enables me to continue to explore the world – but now when I look at the contrails in the sky, I’m grateful for my feet firmly planted on the ground.