Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How I Became a Frequent Flyer (Part 1)

I spent the first twenty years or so of my husband's airline pilot career successfully avoiding flying as much as I possibly could.  It was unfortunate for my husband, I suppose, that he married a woman who was not willing (or able) to let herself enjoy the airline employee perk of free flights anywhere, anytime.  My husband was once talking about my fear of flying to a fellow commercial pilot, and the guy asked, "Did you know this about her when you married her?"

The answer is yes, he did.  And he married me anyway, God bless him.

When my husband was getting ready to retire from his first career as a Naval Aviator, after about eight years, and apply for a job with the airlines, I warned him that even if we COULD fly anywhere, anytime, that didn't mean I was going to suddenly morph into a jet-setter.  He assured me that he was well aware of my feelings and would never force me to fly unless I wanted to, and he's been faithful to that promise.  He assured me he wasn't taking the job so that we could travel about the globe (thank goodness!); he was taking it so that we could offer our children the kind of upbringing we'd both had and loved, one where they didn't have to move every three years and always be the "new kid" in school.  One where we could buy a home for our family and put down roots.

I'm making it sound like I never set foot on an airplane in days of yore, but that really isn't true.  When my husband was stationed in Florida, we flew up north, small kids in tow, for several Christmases and family weddings. We took a family trip to Bermuda to visit my husband's brother once, when we had four sons and the youngest of them was only two. We traveled by airplane to Disney when our fifth son was about five.  (Ah, the Disney trip! Now that's a blog post in itself!  A novel, even!  But I digress.)  One summer when our older boys were in high school, we all flew out to Notre Dame so that they could attend a lacrosse camp put on by the university.

But when my children were growing up, I only took an airplane trip on one occasion without them, and that was when my grandmother died and I had to travel--alone--from New Hampshire down to Florida and back.  As much as I loved my grandma and wanted to be there for Grandpa, I tried to chicken out of making the trip, but then found out that my mother was helping to pay for the tickets of several of my siblings who couldn't afford the plane fare...and there I was, the daughter who could fly for free.  There was no way out for me.  I did not handle that separation from my children well at all; copious tears were involved, and I must admit that even though I am not much of a drinker, alcohol was involved as well.  (Not a copious amount, like the tears; but enough to make me sleep through the in-flight movie.  Enough to make me forget where I was in the "Hail Mary's" I kept saying as the plane made its descent into Boston, so that I had to keep starting my prayers over!)  My husband brought our four boys, ages three to seven at the time, to Boston's Logan Airport at about 11:00 at night to welcome Mommy home; I truly do not believe I have ever seen a more beautiful sight than those five guys of mine waiting for me at the gate when I got off the plane.  I had flown away from them and, wonder of wonders, I had lived to see them once again!  I was alive!  My babies would not have to be motherless, all because I'd gotten on one of those big, bad airplanes without them!  I couldn't hug them hard enough.

As for choosing to travel for pleasure alone and leaving the kids behind--fuhgetaboutit!  I just wouldn't do it.  When our our oldest son was not quite five and our fourth son was about six months old, we were visiting with my in-laws and my father-in-law made what I'm sure he thought was the most generous offer we'd ever been given.  My husband's older sister was living in Germany at the time, where her Army husband was stationed, and one of his younger sisters was over there teaching at a Department of Defense school.  That meant that any Pearl family members who wanted to travel to Germany would have a free place to stay.  And of course, with my husband's brand new job as an airline pilot, he and I could travel over there for free as well.  So Dad said, "Mom and I are going to going to watch the boys so you two can take a trip to Germany."  My knee-jerk reaction to this statement (which definitely sounded like a command to me rather than a "Hey, how does this sound?" kind of deal) was to blurt back, "I'M NOT GOING TO GERMANY!!"  It pains me to think of the way I handled that situation now, because I know I hurt my father-in-law's feelings.  I should have just said "Oh, we'll see," and then figured out a graceful way, with my husband's help, to say no.  Certainly any sane daughter-in-law would have jumped at the chance to take an all-expenses-paid trip to Germany and leave her four children safely behind in the hands of loving grandparents.  But I was not any sane daughter-in-law.  I was a daughter-in-law with a severe case of aviaphobia, and there was no way anyone was going to make me get on an airplane to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, away from my babies!  The thought of it made my heart race and my palms sweat.

As you read this, you may be wondering about my lack of faith; because certainly, if one believes in God and is filled with trust in His wisdom and mercy, he knows that it's no good questioning why things (like plane crashes, for instance) happen the way they do.  One of my siblings pointed this out to me on the drive to the airport for my return flight, after my grandmother's funeral all those years ago, and it annoyed me. How dare he question the strength of my faith?  But if there wasn't some truth in what he said, it wouldn't have gotten under my skin the way it did.  I knew he had a point.  The bottom line was that I wasn't really afraid of flying, per se.  I have a fear of heights, and I get dizzy standing atop a tall ladder and looking down; but I can look out of an airplane window and enjoy the view without the same sensation.
The view out my window, shortly after take-off from Atlanta yesterday.
(Notice the shadow of the airplane, lower right.  That's the one I was riding in when I snapped this shot!)
And if I'm lucky enough to get first class (which these days, is nothing short of a miracle), I love the whole meal served in mid-air thing.  Even in coach, I look forward to the beverage cart coming down the aisle towards me.  It means I'm going to have either a coffee or a Diet Coke to sip on while I read whatever good book I've brought along for the trip.  So it's not the flying I fear; it's the realization that whenever you get on a plane, there's no changing your mind mid-trip and getting off at the next rest stop.  You're along for the ride, no matter what. And my brain is capable of imagining the most horrendous what's.

Obviously, it's dying that I'm afraid of--not flying.

But here's the amazing thing: I have become not only a frequent flyer, but a much less fearful one.  The more I do it, the easier it becomes.  Part of this can surely be attributed to the fact that my boys have grown up and I know they would survive the loss of their mother more easily.  But working on my faith has been a huge part of the process, too.  I'm going to have to take a break here, though, because this post is much too long already.  I think I'll make this a two-parter and finish it up tomorrow.  Now that I'm back home from my most recent travels (which means I'm back to a more regular blogging routine), I don't want to bore you to death with posts that go on and on and on...

See you tomorrow!  (I hope?)

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