As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. – Marianne Williamson
On a recent flight back home, a woman held the boarding pass for A 58. My boarding pass was for A 57. She stood behind me as we waited. After the gate attendant announced the boarding process was beginning, fear overtook her. She started to weep and swayed from one foot to the other in an attempt to find some solid ground.
There was a young man behind her that noticed the fear, too. The lady asked him if everything was going to be okay. He reassured her. Then she asked him to put her in a seat. He committed to doing this.
On the way down the jet way, she kept asking, “You promise? You promise you will put me in a seat?”
“I promise,” the young man replied back.
“Promise?” she asked again.
“I promise,” he said again.
Searching for security
I found an empty middle seat in Row 2. Nestling between two woman, both grandmothers, one going to see her grandchildren and one returning, I felt safe for the two-hour flight home. The frightened lady took the middle seat behind me.
She sat between two elderly women. The flight attendant approached to see if the women were being overwhelmed by the terrified woman sitting next to them. Both confirmed they were fine.
We pushed back from the gate and sat on the tarmac for about ten minutes as the pilot waited his turn to taxi. During this delay, the lady in the middle seat asked to be held. I heard sleeves ruffle as hands found her waiting arms. The strength in their grasps must have provided some needed relief. Shortly after takeoff she collapsed and found sleep. Seemingly exhausted by the fear, her body took over and provided some needed care.
Place your oxygen mask on first before helping the person next to you
Fear has been winning lately. It started a few months ago when I started waking up several times during the night. Lying in the darkness, my anxiety would escalate to the point that falling sleep again was a challenge.
Thoughts of not being safe in my own house paralyzed me. I listened intently to the night sounds. The creaks were scrutinized with an acute discernment to determine their origin. I found a measure of relief when the dogs were calm. No barking meant nothing unusual. Fear was present and I didn’t know why.
The pilot signaled when the plane reached 10,000 feet. I reached for my laptop bag and searched for my iPod. Unraveling the ear buds, I placed the music in my ears and attempted to relax. The terrified woman was still asleep and I was praying for the same result.
Instead, my thoughts churned. I recalled the pre-flight safety instructions. While several of my fellow passengers ignored the words, I listened intently. I wanted to be prepared in case the worst happened. A sense of obligation swept over me. There was a terrified woman sitting behind me and somehow I felt responsible. I felt the need for some redemption.
Walking down the jet way and onto the plane I felt guilty that I wasn’t the one offering the reassurance. It is my nature to help others, but I didn’t do it this time. My selfishness surprised me. I guess I was putting my oxygen mask on first – and it felt unfamiliar.
With music filling my head with its sweet relief, I noticed the seat belt sign was turned off. We were cruising now. No turbulence made for a safe flight.
Sitting between the comfortable securities, I allowed my mind to go deep. It was given permission to wander. For the next 90 minutes I didn’t have to be anywhere or to do anything. I could use this time to figure out the fear.
Fear keeps a safe distance during the day, but at night it feels our vulnerability. It takes advantage of our helpless state and exploits our weaknesses. My weakness has been the thought my life is not enough; that I am falling short and my life is not counting. My expectation is I would be in a different place than I am now. My fear is my life will be over soon and I have not even lived it. I fear the promise of true happiness is like a bully taunting me with its cruel arrogance.
The sins from my past carry into my present. The shadows of my mother continue to haunt me and bait me into believing I will turn out just like her. My capacity to self-love remains a challenge and I feel unworthy to have what I have. My fear tells me that I’m not enough, and in the early morning hours when sleep abandons me, is when fear does the most damage.
The Southwest pilot signaled the plane was making its final descent. I looked through the airplane’s small window and saw the world begin to rise up and welcome me back home. After returning the iPod to my bag, I pressed the button to snap my seat back into position. I was ready to land.
The terrified woman was awake now. She sighed deeply, but the sighs sounded more like relief this time. She thanked the lady on her left and apologized to the lady on her right for the scene she made earlier.
Both were gracious and assured her it was no problem. I was surprised by how she let her guard down so soon. We were still five minutes from touching down. The pilot had to land the plane for us to be completely safe.
I wondered if she understood this, or if because the flight attendant said, “Welcome to Kansas City,” after the final safety announcement she thought the journey was over and she was safe. Maybe fear is just a state of mind when we lack sufficient information to know any better. Or maybe fear is a reaction to something we have experienced before, but with unpleasant consequences. So, when we see it again, we naturally dread it.
I have been praying for fear’s final decent so my soul can let down it guard and rest again. With the ground just a few hundred feet below me, it occurred to me how I could chase fear out of my mind and return to a place of peace.
After parking at the arrival gate, the seat belt sign was turned off for the last time. The grandmother who was on her way to visit her grandchildren waited for a wheelchair. I placed my hand under her arm and gently hoisted her up. Helping to keep her steady, my grip tightened as she turned to sit down. Once safely in the wheelchair, the escort pushed her up the jet way and out of my eyesight.
I will probably never see her again, but I will never forget the presence her comfort provided for a very brief time in my life. The grandmother who was sitting to my right walked up the jet way with me. Once we reached the end, she found her husband. We said goodbye to each other. And under my breath, I whispered, “thank you.”
Standing at the baggage carousel, I scanned the group to find the terrified woman. My eyes panned the area several times looking for her. Finally, my glance settled on a woman who resembled her, but I couldn’t believe it was actually her. Her face looked remarkably different. It was no longer drawn up and tight. Her eyes were bright and she smiled beautifully as she chatted with the group who greeted her.
Her fear had been pushed out. It was replaced with something that looked like ecstasy. I envied her and wanted the same thing for me.
In that moment when the plane was about to find the ground, I realized that I am the one who is keeping the fear alive because I am allowing it to have power over me. My doubts, my insecurities, and my inability to love myself exist because I allow these things to exist. I have created this fear and all the baggage that has come with it. It is up to me to cast it away and claim a life that is waiting just for me.
Flying through fear has been a reminder of a past I was not responsible for creating. What happened almost a lifetime ago is now dead and buried. It’s time to bury my fear along with it. It’s time to place my oxygen mask on first and breathe in the intoxicating freedom.
The belt on the baggage carousel brought my green garment bag to me. I grabbed it and started for the parking garage. Walking out, I noticed the young man who helped the terrified woman was still waiting for his bag. He looked calm and patient. No doubt he has been breathing from his oxygen mask for some time now. Good for him, I thought, good for him.
Once in my car and heading home, I promised myself a good night’s sleep tonight and for the nights to come. And when I feel the fear begin to stir and keep me from what I deserve, I will ask myself, “Do you promise not to allow the fear to have power any longer?”