I worry too much. My husband often tells me that. But there’s nothing like a near-death experience to put things in perspective.
My 2 daughters and I were on a flight into Chicago last Saturday. Weather was bad on the ground so we circled overhead for about 45 minutes before the captain said we were good to go. He turned on the fasten seat-belt sign and warned it might get a “little bumpy”.
It was a “little bumpy” the way the dentist warns you may feel a “little pinch” with a shot in the roof of your mouth, or the Ob/Gyn says that childbirth may cause a “little discomfort”.
After a couple of rough bumps, the plane lurched violently to the left; the arms of the seat dug sharply into our ribs. Then it lurched violently to the right, snapping the seatbelts into locked position. Then it dropped.
Several women were screaming, including one across the aisle from me. The poor man right behind her, a Caribbean gentleman who had never flown before, called to God for help. I assume lots of people were praying. I know I was. He, however, was shouting. “JE-sus. JE-sus. DEAR Lord, SAVE us!” Every 30 seconds or so he would fling his arms up and call out “JE-sus!”
I grabbed each daughter’s hand and held on tight, trying to impart strength and calm. At least I thought I had each daughter’s hand, but in all the hubbub I had grabbed two of Gwen’s, and Liz was outside the protective circle of love I was building. I dropped one of Gwen’s hands and fished for Liz’s, ignoring her attempts to pull away. She took time during the crisis to flash me a look of annoyance.
But I held on with a death grip anyway. Because that’s what it might have been.
The thing is, I had already pre-worried this whole scenario.
In my pre-flight worrying, I had covered just about all of the major disasters that could befall us: hijacking, terrorism, and going down due to bad weather or equipment malfunction. I had even outlined a few scenarios that were, in retrospect, a bit unlikely. Things like contracting Legionnaire’s Disease from the recycled cabin air. (Although that might still come to pass – it has only been a few days and I don’t know what the incubation period is for Legionnaire’s.)
In the bad weather scenario, I saw me gripping the girls’ hands in a circle of protective, calm, strengthiness. I fantasized about us joining spontaneously in prayer, and exchanging one last, loving look as I whispered, “God bless you”, right before the end.
By now you’ve probably figured out that we did not end up scattered across the south side of Chicago. I don’t think you can access WordPress from the 5th circle of hell. The pilot touched down smoothly, and then hit the brakes so hard we all pressed our feet to the floor as if it would help him stop this Instrument of Death. The cabin erupted in applause and cheering as the plane slowed, just like in the movies.
Only the handholding part of my pre-event worrying actually came to pass, and that was marred by Liz’s undramatic attitude.
The Caribbean gentleman sat with his head in his hands after the worst of the ordeal, which seemed to last forever, but was probably all of 7 minutes. In the thick of it I wanted to reach across the aisle to hold his hand, but I couldn’t break the circle with my daughters. I risked a glance at him as we landed and he looked at me and said, in his beautiful, singsong island voice “It is too much. It is just too much.” I wasn’t sure exactly what he meant, but I agreed whole-heartedly.
What I’ve taken away from this experience is that pre-event worrying has a definite place in one’s preparedness arsenal. Without it, I probably wouldn’t have come up with the calm handholding strategy and may have spent my last moments on earth screaming my fool head off.
As to the Caribbean gentleman, when I last saw him he was shakily stepping off the plane and vowing never to fly again. Without flying, I figure he’ll make it back home sometime around October. If his ship doesn’t get blown off-course during a hurricane.