The fear and fun of flying


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Category: Reflections Date: 04 Feb 99

Christopher Columbus understood it: the thrill of variety and adventure. The way your heart thumps at a strange custom or a beautiful unfamiliar costume. We understand it at Carnival time when we slip into many make-believe worlds. To travel is to be alive.


Did you hear of the woman who screamed and shouted to be let off the plane when it was on the verge of take off? She got her way. Some people sleep right through it. Others drink right through it. Some talk right through it. Others quiver with every tremor, hold hands with anyone, man, woman or child, and weep if the weather gets bad.


By the time you read this I will be in India. Just thinking about it makes my pulse race: not only because I am a neurotic passenger who will make up for a lifetime of neglecting religion by praying for 28 hours solid while Iím in the air: Dear God, Iíll be good if we land safely. Dear God, I will never ever worry about petty things like an extra pound on my waist or a bad haircut. I will never ever scream or shout when I get angry if the plane stops shaking. I will be as wise as a nun, as good as a saint, eat carrots for breakfast and porridge for dinner if the weather improves. If you let me live I will never use food to comfort myself: not hamburgers, chocolate nor cheesecakes, not that bar of fruit Ďní nut chocolate. I will be nice even to those who hate me. Please let me live. If you let me live I will become like Mother Theresa and spend my remaining days in good acts. I promise God I will not ever have any selfish thoughts like wanting to be younger/thinner/cleverer/ happier/more loved/less neurotic. I will not shop when I get depressed. I will not buy another pair of shoes until this one is worn down to the soles of my feet. I will visit the sick instead. I will be good. If only you let us land safely.


So far, fingers crossed, I have landed safely and headed straight for fatty food followed by coffee and deliciously malicious gossip with a friend. That is until the next flight, when I begin my religious confessionals again. The plane journey apart, my pulse continues to race while I travel. Travel is like a thriller book or movie. You never know whatís around the bend. You always sit at the edge of your seat. Your nerve endings are live electrical wires. Colours become more vivid. The reds are redder. All the other colours are bluer, yellower, greener, brighter. Sound too. You are more sensitive to that. A childís cry can sound like a siren, a whisper, like a breath into a flute. 


Airports are like many movies taking place at the same time: sentimental, comic, funny, happy little scenes everywhere. A neutral place for the people of the world to meet without fighting over religion. I know many people who are addicted to it (travel, not religion). People who work for six months of the year so they can travel for the next six. My sister, with husband, child, profession and another baby on the way, has one burning ambition in life: travel. We dream together of the Great Wall of China which  runs for 6,000 kilometres, of the Sun Gate of Tiahuanaco in an old ruined city in Bolivia, of Mount Kenya National Park near Nairobi, of the Great Barrier Reefs of Australia, of Mount Fuji in Japan, of sailing on the River Niger, of the Namib Desert in south-west Africa, of the Congo, of the dark forests and huge silver stretches of marsh and water in Siberia, Tibet, and Potala, home of Buddhist spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, of gold pagodas in Rangoon, of Istanbul, and Singapore and Rome.


The world is so huge and, because of the invention of the aeroplane, so small, so accessible. Itís a waste and a crime not to experience as much as you can. But what Iíve found is that as fascinating as the Taj Mahal or the mountains of the Lapis Lazuli in eastern Afghanistan are, the people of the world, despite their varied customs and languages, are ultimately the same. They all want love and security and happiness for their family and full lives and American Nikes and burgers. Reassuring when youíre far from home.


While you read this I am in a plane, my hands are clammy and throat dry with fear. I am upright, tense and wide-eyed with fear. I fear death but dear God, why is it that even as I fear death I am the most alive than I ever am suspended hundreds of miles in the air into the vast unknown than with my feet on the ground in a familiar place?

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur