The turbulence started suddenly and I gripped the armrests and closed my eyes against my jarring reality. I was coming back home from a ten-week study program in the British Isles, and there was only an hour before this long flight was over and my feet would once again hit the God-blessed American soil. I was thinking about Jif peanut butter, Bounce laundry sheets, and driving on the right side of the road when the sun jerked out of the small window and the beam of light I had been basking in turned cold.
It had been hours after our takeoff in Dublin before my body relaxed so that not every muscle was taut and aching. We’d been chasing the sun for five hours before I finally fell asleep for a meager 25 minutes and then, when I could see our plane was drawing nearer to the Atlanta airport, the terror struck.
I’m not going to die; I’m not going to die. But the pilot’s voice over the intercom interrupted my sad little pep talk. He asked all flight attendants to take their seats as it was not safe for them to be up and moving about the cabin. My confidence failed and my thoughts took on a more pleading tone. Please don’t let me die; please don’t let me die. I’m too young, I have too much I want to do. I looked to my classmate sitting at my side. She was unruffled by fact that our plane was randomly dropping hundreds of feet at a time and could potentially plummet to the ground in a fiery tragedy. Granted, she had never been afraid of flying as I had. She looked over at me and smiled sympathetically: “Just pretend you’re on a rollercoaster.”
Through my gritted teeth I replied, “I hate roller coasters.”
“Oh. Well, then I’ve got nothing. But we’ll be there soon.”
When I applied to study abroad, I realized that I would have to endure quite a bit of airtime to get there and back, but I prided myself on my courage and told everyone that I was not going to let my fears control my life. I had overcome my fears before: traveling around the country to visit family, friends, and colleges and to tour California with my orchestra. And for the past two years I had to fly across Washington State to get home for Christmas, and sometimes for Thanksgiving due to snowstorms in the mountains separating my school and my family. I am no stranger to air travel, and yet, the nerves have never subsided, not even with frequent practice.
The pilot began the descent, and when my heart restarted and my eyes reopened I could see the miniature vehicles rolling down the streets. I knew that the drivers sat on the left side of their cars and drove on the right of the street, and I felt a fondness for Georgia that I had never in my life expected to feel.
I thought about kissing the ground when I exited the plane, but I felt it wouldn’t count unless it was solid, natural earth that met my grateful lips, and the grey-blue carpet that welcomed me back to the U.S.A. looked like it had been trodden over by many feet and rolling suitcases since its last cleaning. I checked my desire and instead joined my classmates in pointing out signs that had words like “restrooms” and “elevators.” I knew that in two hours I would be in another plane, riding out the rough air with a Sudoku and another classmate to distract me. But the sun was still high in the sky, and any concerns about potential death by air disaster were pushed away by the sudden affections for the land passing under me that I am proud to call home.