Sometimes, you just need to hold a stranger's hand
It's been a while.
I started my year well.
Pretty perfectly actually.
Time with friends, time alone.
Time to read, time to write.
Picking up one project, putting down another.*
Saying yes to some things, and saying no to others.
*This is not the project that I've put down.
Basically, I started my year on my terms.
Now, that being said, the committed, punctual, people pleaser in me only let this go so far. I've actually been writing my two weekly posts this month but I haven't published any of them. Why? For the month of January writing for me was more important than writing for the purpose of commitment to this project. I will share them with you. When the time is right. Busy weeks, lazy weeks, blocked weeks, or maybe just the weeks when they're needed. We'll see. But for now, this week.
I have serious travel anxiety. I'm such a creature of habit and I thrive on routine, so when I have to travel I'm kind of a mess. I worry constantly about over or under packing. I can't sleep the night before. I wake up way too early the day of. I always think I've left something in the hotel room, even though I never actually have.
Most of these fears are calmed by my Type-A tendencies. I create elaborate spreadsheets for packing which outline the weather, where I'm going, what I'm doing, what I'm packing, when I'll wear/use it, and how my bag is organized. (This is likely how I've never left anything in a hotel.) I plan my schedule for travel days down to 5 minute increments, and build in buffer time so that even if i'm running behind I'm never actually late. Melatonin abounds to assist with sleepless night is comfortable but strange beds. I take control.
There's one thing that I typically can't control. The actually travel.
I've spent way too much time in traveling this week, 4 flights. 4 takeoffs, 4 landings, 8 rides to and from airports, 28,000 steps through terminals to and from gates. My flight anxiety has gotten better with time, but on my last flight of this week, I was too tired, too close to home, too close to my neighbor, too everything for what went down.
When I fly I sit in one of the following rows, determined by the make up / size of the plane: 1, 7, 11, 17, or 22. The numbers are arbitrary and at this point its more tradition than ritual. I'd spent the last hour and 45 minutes in seat 22A, way too close to my neighbor in 22B. He seemed harmless and even made a joke when we were trying to figure out the seat belt situation, but a very full flight, and ever shrinking airplane seats were the cause of a little discomfort. I'd been listening to an audio book, trying to avoid the inevitable uncomfortable conversation that sometimes happens on airplanes.
I'm in the middle of wondering how much of a difference reclining a seat 2.5 centimeters can make, both for the comfort of the seated and the safety of the landing when the Captain announced that we'd begin making our "final descent". I've always found this phrasing odd, but whatever. In approximately 20 minutes I will be free of this skymobile and hopefully no longer attached at the hip with a stranger. This is when I made my first mistake.
Mistake #1: I looked out of the window and it dawned on me that we were making our "final descent" over Lake Michigan. "Cool. Okay. I guess that's fine, This probably happens all the time. I'm cool. I'm good." I lied to myself. I turned back to face forward and closed my eyes. I raise the volume on my audio book and began to take long deep breaths, the plane starts to shake a little, in a way that feels not right but not quite "somethings wrong" yet. My eyes jolt open, and I lean forward and begin to breathe as deep and slow as I physically know how to trying to calm my heart rate. I hear a murmuring voice. Probably the dad behind me talking to his son. He looked about 11.
Mistake #2: I glance out the window again. We are 100% over water, no land in sight. The plane shakes a little again. I inhale sharply and my breathing instantly becomes quick and shallow. Headphones silent, but still in, I hear a muffled "You're okay." "Thanks." I think.
I close my eyes once more trying to forget that the plane is, for my anxious perspective, literally flying into the lake, like right now. As the plane descended lower and lower, so did my chill. The drop on its own is enough, but whatever rough air, turbulence, or other plane fighting nonsense that we were dealing with had officially gotten to me. I couldn't breathe right and I was shaking a little bit. I was convinced that this was the day I would die.
To be fair, It wasn't really that bad, and I didn't think the plane was going to crash. I was anticipating dying the sole casualty of the coup that fear and anxiety were staging in my body.
"I promise. We're going to be okay." I realize that the voice wasn't the parent in the row behind me attempting to calm his child, it was the man who I'd spent the last 2 hours nearly shoulder to shoulder with attempting to help calm me.
My immediate reaction? Embarrassment. "Oh no, I must look crazy."
Then I slipped into overthinking, and a new kind of fear. I've had my space invaded on multiple occasions when seated next to or near strange men. "What if he's a creep?"
Then I remembered that I literally couldn't breathe and decided to just hope for the best. I turned my head slightly to the right and realized that while he had for a period of time been looking past me out the window, he was now looking at me. Just looking at him I could tell that he could tell that I was freaking out, and instead of being annoyed, or bothered, he was trying to help.
As we continued to make our descent, I felt every drop, every shake, every move in the pit of my stomach, which I can only assume was clear on my face. Every so often he'd remind me that though this was a little wonky, It was all totally normal.
Eventually we landed and the flight's captain comes on to say "Well... uh... that was fun?" I laughed, he laughed, and then he asked me if this was my destination or a lay over. I told him that I was headed hoe from here and he said "Well, at least now you can get on with the significantly more dangerous portion of your trip home." That helped.
While we waited for the 21 rows ahead of us to deplane he told me stories from his life. Of the worst flight's he'd been on, of flying with his kids, and of what it felt like being at the game that secured the Eagles' spot in the Super Bowl (Midway was a connection for him, he was actually on his way to the game in Minneapolis.) That helped.
Then it was our turn. I wished him and his team luck, and that was that. Perfect.
It was a perfect story. A moment with a beginning, middle, and an end.
It was a perfect response, to what was clearly not a perfect landing.
It was perfectly unnecessary, he just as easily could have kept playing the game on his phone that he was playing, or continued to look past me out the window at the gorgeous (if you're into that sort of thing) aerial view of the partially frozen lake at sunset from thousands of feet above.
It was a pretty perfect reminder of something that I've set out to do more this year: connect.
So, this is the story of a metaphorical hand-holding. Although, turbulence has also resulted in me literally grabbing a stranger's hand. For me, this moment was a reminder of what's good in people. The desire to care when we don't need to, help when we don't have to, and share simply because we can. The desire to hold each other's hands.