- Posted by K.M. Sutton
“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ ” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt
I have an unnatural (or perhaps natural?) fear of heights. I have since I was a child. Perhaps it was all the times my siblings would stick me atop the refrigerator, or they would terrorize me about ledges and cliffs as only older siblings do. I have written about it. Even faced my fears with walks over the Brooklyn Bridge and going a top the Empire State Building.
Flying use to scare me, until I did it enough times it became second nature. Which is why on my flight back to New York this past week, I could empathize with my seat mate.
You would think flying during the Winter months along the New England coast would be the worst time to travel, but it is actually Spring and Fall, where I have always experienced the most “I just lost ten years of my life and thank God for seat belt” flights.
Bumpiness and jarring galore, I have become immune to it for the most part. Yes there was that time a couple years ago, I grabbed a movie producer’s arm out of reflex as we were tossed like a salad. Bright side I ended up going out on a couple dates with him. Flying back from California I was woken up unpleasantly as we tried to avoid Snow Storm Stella. And then my flight from Montreal to Boston a few years back which still causes me nightmares. Yes I have had my fair share of turbulent flights.
On Monday being the anti-social New Yorker I am, I smiled and turned back to my book as we took our seats, buckling up and preparing to taxi. As we took off, I noticed my seat-mate put her head in her hands, and her legs were shaking uncontrollably.
At first I was unsure what to do. She was most definitely in distress and I was torn. Do I stay oblivious or do I channel my empathy and see if I can help. Making eye contact my decision was made for me as she began to profusely apologize explaining “Sorry, I promise I am not sick, I just really really hate this. I just wish we would straighten out.” I very quickly told her it was okay and their was no need to apologize.
Because it WAS. We all have fears, and they are nothing to apologize for, especially to strangers.
As it began to get worse, and the seat belt sign kept dinging like a petulant child reminding us all they want candy, she asked if it was normal. I told her it was and that my flight to Maine had been equally bumpy that Wednesday. At that point we reached some particularly angry air and she grabbed my knee as tears began streaming down her face and my own heart was breaking witnessing her fear.
And still she kept apologizing.
I took out my ear buds giving her my undivided attention as I began talking to her rubbing her back and hoping to distract her even with mundane chatter. She told me about her career as a winemaker which was absolutely fascinating. She then explained to me how she actually flew a lot (spending half her time in France) but that the planes were bigger cushioning passengers from the turbulence and she could take the red-eye knocking herself out. The flight from Maine to JFK is such a short flight that to take anything, would hinder the rest of her day, which I understood.
Whole some people dislike the confined space of airplanes, or being so high, her fear wasn’t with flying itself, but with the turbulence. And with that, it is all in Mother Natures hands.
During that forty-five minute flight, I met a woman who showed remarkable courage in facing a fear. What was utter hell for her, she still faced them, some might think unsuccessfully, but instead of avoiding it by taking a car or a train, she tackled them head on. She even attempted joking through her anxiety about how she had aged ten years. I admired her tenacity, her strength and the fact that she showed us all that fear just makes us stronger. Even if it doesn’t seem like it. Just by facing it head on, you become stronger.
As humans we ALL go through unpleasantness. We all have to face our fears at some point, because the fact is we ALL have them. Sometimes they are on full display for strangers and friends alike to see. It is what at our core makes us human and differentiates us from other animals. It is what breeds connection if we let it. We all need that connection. As easy as it is to stay home and become a hermit with the accessibility of internet, it is more important now that we keep those doors of communication of humanity open.
Living in the city it is so easy to walk around with ear-buds in, being deliberately oblivious to what is going on. To be caught up in the anti-social busyness of our lives that we become detached from people. Even more so when emotions get high or make us uncomfortable.
It is those moments where we need to open our hearts more. Be there for people and even strangers. The beauty isn’t just in the breaking, but it is also in the trust. Trusting someone when our hearts are at their most vulnerable. It is such an incredibly beautiful yet humbling experience. To witness someone struggling, yet still facing fear head on and offer in turn comfort and empathy, is human connection at its core. Stranger or friend, we are human and our empathy is the biggest gift we can give. It is what connects us all.
What are your thoughts? Do you face your fears head on? As always I love to hear from you guys. <3