I’ve been flying all my life; in fact, I even flew in utero, when my mother was pregnant with me, when all I’d ever known at that point was complete nothingness and the curvature of the inside of her round belly. Since then, I’ve made a few trips across the globe a few times, back and forth and back again. Nothing has ever made me feel more alive than flying; nothing has ever made me feel more gratified than being able to bask in Bernoulli’s principle and Newton’s Third Law.

Yet, on one particular trip from Nassau (NAS) to Baltimore (BWI), a severe bout of anxiety gripped me as I looked over the water and over the islands below and terror surged through my body, paralyzing me. The plane was half-full and everyone was seated in the front, except me—I was in the very last seat at the far back of the plane.

“You okay back here by yourself?” the stewardess asked me as she was making her rounds preparing for take-off. “There are more seats up front, you know.”

I’d thanked her and smiled, “No, I’m fine,” and nodded happily as if I were some dumb pre-adolescent kid riding alone for the very first time.

As the plane took off and we ascended into the sky, I stared out from seat 34F, situated deep within the bowels of that 757, and I watched the brown of the earth grow small and become engulfed by the blue of the water and, oh god, there was so much blue water. Then I took my eyes off the water and watched the curvature of the horizon take shape, paralleled only by the thin navy-blue line of the ozone. It was so round, god, and I thought of what people so long ago would have thought if only they had seen this as I was now, back when they were debating whether the earth was flat or whether it was round, and now it’s so perfectly round that it wouldn’t make sense any other way.

And this made me think of the universe, how one day someone will be soaring through the empty vastness of space looking down on the planets and the glow of the stars growing smaller and eventually fading away, and they—these people flying through this space-time will think to themselves: God, they used to think the earth was the center of the universe and later that the sun was the center of the universe and that the universe was flatmy god—they used to think there was only one universe.

As the anxiety took hold of me and we passed through the clouds and made our way to 30,000 feet, I realized that I was terrified because I was so high up off the ground, the ground which is so comforting and secure and stable most of the time. Now I was so far from it, so high up in that fluid mixture and there was nothing else there, nothing else for as far as the eye could see, and it was being up there in that complete nothingness that terrified me. And then I realized that I should feel the terror of this anxiety every day of my life on earth, and not only up in the air, because all the earth is ever doing is just moving in circles through the void of space, sailing through the utterly frightening peace of complete nothingness.

But then the plane landed, and I put my feet to the ground and took in a deep breath, and all of my anxiety simply melted away, dissipating into thin air, into complete nothingness.


Category: Airplanes

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