As I said at the end of my post yesterday, one of the main reasons I've become more comfortable with the idea of airplane travel in my old age is that my five sons are grown up now, and with the exception of the youngest (who just turned 20 and is a sophomore in college), they're out there in the big, wide world-- living independently and successfully taking care of themselves. They've got jobs, cars, homes, and insurance plans of their own. When I board an airplane these days, I'm not thinking, "Who will take care of all my sweet little boys if anything happens to me?"
They'd have been fine if they'd lost me, I know that now. What's too bad is that I didn't know it back when I was a young mother. I didn't trust in God enough. I didn't trust that He knew what was best for my children, and indeed loved them even more that I did; I didn't trust that if He'd taken me "before my time," as they say, it would have all been okay. Even out of bad situations, God can make good things happen, and I have no doubt now that my sons would have not only survived, but thrived. (But I sure am glad that God's plan involved letting me stick around long enough to see my boys become men, and long enough to earn the coveted title of "Grammy"!)
Had I trusted--truly trusted--in God the way I should have back when I had babes in arms, I might have taken that trip over to Germany. You know, the one I told you about yesterday: the one so sweetly offered to me by my dear late father-in-law, the one I so quickly and rudely turned down. But I just didn't have enough faith. I believed back then that if I had my feet planted firmly on the ground, I had control over my destiny. It shames me now when I think of it.
When we were in the throes of the child-rearing years, those crazy, busy days filled with diapers, potty training, temper tantrums, T-Rex imitations, "lunch lady" duty, parent-teacher conferences, trips to Chuck E Cheese, Pee Wee football games, Disney/Pixar movies, and dinners of Kraft macaroni and cheese with butter-fried hot dog slices mixed in (don't judge me!), I told my husband I was pretty sure that, while I had a hard time flying AWAY from my children, if they grew up and scattered to the far corners of the country, I would definitely fly if it meant going TO them. And just as my husband promised from the get-go that his job as an airline pilot would not require me to become a jet-setter, I promised him that if need be, one day I would learn to be a frequent flyer.
I am happy to report that both of us have kept the flying-related promises we made to each other back when we had smoother skin and fewer gray hairs than we have today.
I remember the first time I realized that my husband and I were on a plane together, with no children on board and two sons at home (our youngest, who was in high school, and our second oldest, who was 22 and living at home while he worked on his undergraduate degree at the nearby university). It was 2008, and except for that one trip way back in 1991, when I'd traveled alone to Florida to attend my grandmother's funeral, I'd never flown off into the wild blue yonder and left kids behind. "Do you realize," I asked my husband, "that this is the first time we've flown anywhere together, just the two of us, in the twenty years you've worked for the airline?" (Twenty years! That was probably some kind of airline employee record.) Wow, that was a defining moment. But here's the thing: our oldest son had just completed his flight training and was about to become an official Army helicopter pilot. There was no way we were going to miss his graduation ceremony. There was no way my husband, a former military aviator himself, was going to miss pinning those wings on his oldest son's uniform.
Since that milestone trip, there have been countless others. My husband and I have flown--just the two of us--out to Notre Dame for Junior Parents Weekend festivities, leaving sons #2 and #5 to hold down the fort. With the nest now completely empty most of the time, we've flown to Notre Dame for football weekend family reunions and to various faraway locations where our twin granddaughters can be found (so far, to Wisconsin, Alabama, and Colorado). When two of our sons graduated from Army training in Arizona, we flew there for the ceremonies. I've flown alone more times than I can count now, to bridal and baby showers for my daughter-in-law and to help her out out with the twins after they were born, for instance. When our youngest son had to fly out to Notre Dame for his Army ROTC freshman orientation in the fall of 2011, my husband was slated to accompany him (along with me!), but he got stuck for an extra day in some European city while on a working trip. He called and said I could send our boy with another local family that had a son going out that way for orientation, too, or I could fly out with him myself; it was up to me. I panicked for just a moment--after all, getting sons squared away out at Notre Dame had always been my husband's territory, not mine; he's the ND alumnus who knows South Bend like the back of his hand. But I couldn't bear the thought of sending my youngest son (my baby!) off to college with semi-strangers. So I did it. My boy and I two-legged it out to South Bend together. I rented a car for the first time in my life and found my way from the South Bend airport to the ND campus. I got him checked in for his ROTC orientation. I was so proud of myself! For someone who used to spend weeks before an upcoming flight with knots in her stomach and tears in her eyes, this was a major accomplishment.
Then in December of 2011, I accompanied my husband on a working trip to Nice--my first ever trip across the pond, even though he'd been piloting airplanes to Europe for a decade. And in January and March of 2012, I tagged along to Amsterdam and Athens. Perhaps, I thought, just perhaps...I was beginning to overcome my crippling fear of flying.
With each successful flying experience, it gets easier for me. Practice makes perfect, I guess. My eyes don't well up with tears during take-offs the way they used to, though I'll never get completely used to the sensation of an airplane rumbling down the runway and lifting off the ground. (Those machines are heavy, you know? And the people crowded together on them bring way too much luggage along, if you ask me.) In the back of my mind, I can't help but wonder each time I fly if my final destination will be different than the one printed on my boarding pass, and whether my soul is prepared to meet its Maker. Yet incredibly, I am so much more at peace in the air than I ever was when I was younger.
When I fly now, my knuckles aren't as white as they used to be; but I still pray--A LOT! I pray the very comforting "Unfailing Petition to St. Joseph," and I hold onto the prayer card on which it is printed until we are safely at cruising altitude. I pray to Our Lady and to St. Therese of Lisieux, who is the patron saint of aviators. I also hold onto my precious authentic relic of St. Therese, which once belonged to the grandmother I spoke about in yesterday's post.
After all those years of avoiding air travel like the plague, I have now become a frequent flyer. If it means I get to see my two precious granddaughters, I'll fly as often and as far as I have to.