I’m not one of those people who blithely makes an airline reservation, packs, goes to the airport, and boards a plane without getting right with God first. I blame my grandmother for this. She flatly refused to get on an airplane for most of her life.
She knew that terrible things could happen when human beings tempted the laws of gravity and tried to be geese. Until my grandfather passed away, she adamantly refused to ever be a goose. And so, each winter well into their seventh decade, the two of them kissed their seven grandchildren goodbye and migrated to Florida by car instead. My grandfather, who hoped to get to Hawaii once before he died, never got to hear Don Ho sing “Tiny Bubbles” in Honolulu. He’d married a Swede and then lived with her long enough to know that he might as well save his breath when it came to air travel. Ultimately, he put his dreams of an island vacation away, settling for the sugar sand at Panama City Beach and a good cigar smoked in peace by the pool.
But once he was gone, she threw all caution to the wind and began to fly places. Alone. By this time, she was nearly eighty years old and becoming more frail. None of us could figure it out. Maybe she’d finally made peace with her own mortality, or maybe she needed the winter warmth more than she needed to be afraid of flying. Who knows? At any rate, she flew places cheerfully and willingly for several years before her own passing. A passing that just incidentally had nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that she had, as an old woman, finally become a goose. So, there you go.
I think of her every time I’m on a plane rolling down the runway for take off. There’s a three-step process I go through that keeps me in my seat. First, I try to breathe. Breathing is critical. Next, I pray that the pilot isn’t mad at anyone or drunk. Finally, I ask the good Lord to summon the guardian angels of every passenger on board to the underside of the plane. I visualize the angels with their hands raised up over their heads, wings flapping and robes fluttering. A veritable army of angels working together to get the plane up in the air. Since I have no control over whether the plane rises or not, I let the angels be in charge. It’s the only way I don’t become a screaming, writhing, mess as the plane leaves the ground.
I’ve read all the statistics about air travel and the odds of being in a crash. I know that my trip to the airport is statistically more dangerous than careening through space in an airplane thousands of feet above the ground. I know that turbulence is just an air “road” filled with pot holes. Most of our fears are irrational. I get that. I do.
Despite the logic of it all, I’m going to stick with my angels under the airplane theory as to how planes get off the ground. So far, the angels haven’t let me down. Besides, I’m pretty sure my own personal angel still has a full head of snow-white hair. He smells of Old Spice and cigars. He’s wearing a wool Pendleton shirt with slits cut into the back for his wings.
And every time I fly, if I concentrate really hard over the roar of the engines, I’m pretty sure I can hear him humming the last few bars of “Tiny Bubbles” as he helps to hoist a plane filled with silly geese high into the sky.