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Volume XVII, Issue 10 - March 5 - March 11, 2009
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The Relapse of a Former Fearful Flyer

Snow is lovely, but not when it falls between you and terra firma


Winter-warm snowflakes

Soft and gentle

Drifting lazily to earth

Like white stars falling.

Big flake muffled snow

piling all around

And covering the world in cotton-stuffed silence.

–Cynthia L. Williams: “Ice-White Sounds the Winter”

When you’re situated on Earth and looking to the skies, big winter-warm snowflakes drifting lazily are a sight.

The muffled sound of cotton-stuffed silence is eerie, like there’s no one else on this planet. Solace supreme.

But it’s a different story when one is thousands of feet up in the atmosphere, descending earthward in darkened skies with only the flakes mixed with ice visible solely by the lights on the wings of a jetliner. If the observer is a fearful flyer, he’s thinking something different.

What am I doing up here? I know better. I saw all the cancelled flights on the monitors at the airport. Lord, get me down in one piece and I promise you I’ll never fly again. I’ll watch the snow from below like Cynthia L. Williams.

It didn’t help that at the window seat, my seven-year-old granddaughter marveled at the snow whizzing by horizontally. I closed my eyes as one is expected to do when talking to the Lord. But an excited Grumpy (Mackenzie Noelle Boughey) insisted: Grandpop, watch those millions of snowflakes pass by.

For Grumpy’s Sake

Minutes before, we had been flying smoothly above the snowstorm. Earlier was the reflected bright red streak of sunset over New York. But from above the storm to the runway at BWI, there was no way but to fly amidst the snowflakes for a worrisome ride.

The small airliner window gave Grumps a new perspective of a snowstorm, and when the jet engines slowed or sped up and the plane made a turn, she was vocally gleeful about flying sideways. She is relatively new at flying, and to her it was like riding a rollercoaster.

Me, I have made several emergency landings. One on a lake in the tundra at the northern tip of Quebec in a blinding midsummer snowstorm. Another at Denver with what seemed like every fire truck in the state of Colorado lining the runway. Once in a blinding and terrifying thunderstorm in Manitoba, my airliner made several high and erratic bounces on a runway the pilot could only vaguely see. There was also the time, told here before, during World War II, when flying in a twin prop Navy hospital plane midway from Hawaii to Oakland, Calif., we lost an engine.

You go through things like that a few times, and you don’t wonder why you’re a fearful flyer. You wonder why you’re even still flying.

I’m supposed to be a Former Fearful Flyer, and somewhere I have the diploma to prove it, earned when I took the graduation flight after many weeks of groundside classes with old Eastern Airlines. The confidence of the instructor was sufficient to make it possible for me to once again board a jet for a flight. But my Former Fearful Flyers classes never taught me to cope with this.

Emergency Landing Cancelled

So there I was on the approach to Baltimore, thinking back to Providence 45 minutes earlier when we learned we were in the window between a couple of heavy snowstorms. Some snow had fallen there, 17 inches more was to come in the evening, and snow was starting to fall in Baltimore.

Switching to a train, I thought of briefly. But once I was snowbound in a train in Vermont, and it was no picnic: no heat, no lights, little food. I certainly didn’t want to risk putting Grumpy through that. Moreover, Grumps was anxious to get back to Baltimore and the snow; she was sure Gibson Island Country School would be closed, and she had to get her sled ready for a big day.

So, with airport monitors displaying more and more cancelled flights amidst the groans of would-be passengers, I did as Grandpops are supposed to do. I headed for security, resolved not only to get on that aircraft but to share her spirit of the adventure.

As ice and snow on the wings melted on the descent through the storm, so did my inner resolve — though I hope I hid that from Grumpy. We landed with a noisy bump or two, and my happy granddaughter was one of the first ones off the jetliner with my sister Liz and wife Lois in tow. I was one of the last ones. I needed time to stretch, gain inner composure and give thanks.

Never Again

Grumpy will be flying again, but not with Grandpop. When the plane wheeled to the gate, I promised myself and the Man Above I would never again travel higher than what I can jump. If Grumps and I are headed for the same destination, she can look out the window and see my Saturn chugging along on the highway below.

Enough said.


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