What is Your Greatest Fear?
What will you do if this moment right now is all you’ve got? Would you live life differently from the way you currently do if you survived a terrifying experience?
About a week after the aviation incident which happened on April 17th, I was scheduled to travel with the same airline. The day after I returned with the same airline, another incident was reported about the same airline. I'll save us all the details but here's the story.
I had been in a flight that had to do an emergency landing (different airline) about three years ago, so I found myself reliving that experience as I read the articles I came across about the April 17th incident mentioned above. I would say it has been one of the most terrifying moment I have lived through thus far. One of the engine fans had stopped spinning so it wasn't cooling the engine. The options were to land on the nearest body of water or the nearest airport. We were not told the details until after we landed. I don’t remember this making news as no one died or was injured.
What I remember is, in the calmest and most composed manner ever, the pilot said, “flight attendants prepare for emergency landing.” Prior to this announcement, we (the passengers) could sense something was not right. As the flight attendants were going over the location of the life vest and emergency landing position, I wondered if to send a text message. Given that we were in the middle of nowhere with no network, I did not think the message will reach its destination depending on the outcome of the landing. I do remember taking out my phone to send a message but, in all panic, I don’t remember if I sent a message, to whom and what it said because the anxiety to get in emergency landing position was overwhelming.
After what felt like being in the emergency landing position forever, there was complete silence and then the pilot announced a safe landing at the nearest airport. Most if not all of us had been waiting for the impact upon landing on water or land but I guess due to anxiety/panic, we did not feel it. So, we were urged to exist the plane leaving behind our carry-on items which were later brought to us.
Fast forward to my recent trip, I generally get nervous when I have to fly because I'm terrified of heights. I usually take morning flights so I stay awake the night before and sleep throughout the flight. It has been recommended that I take something for anxiety but I like trying all possible natural remedies first in cases where it is not a life or death situation before trying medications. Besides the level of anxiety does not impair my ability to function. I could be anxious and no one can tell by mere observation.
I was in the last zone to board and I noticed half-way into the plane that most if not all the seats in the middle and along the aisle were taken but most of the window seats were available. I immediately recognized why so I took the next available window seat. As I was settling in looking for the seat belt, I noticed I was sitting next to the engine. So, I paused and the recent aviation incident flashed in my mind. Then I was waiting for the signs of anxiety to present itself to me but it didn’t. As I wondered why the signs of anxiety had not presented to me, this question popped into my mind; what is my greatest fear? While I paused for a few seconds and closed my eyes, I thought the immediate answer would be; I’m scared of death given the recent aviation incident and where I was sitting. But that is not what popped up in my mind.
Not to say I’m not scared of death, but in that particular moment, the answer that popped up was; I’m scared of losing those I cherish because I don’t want to go through the pain/hurt/ache and the healing process. I thought about the pain of betrayal and disappointment, the pain of holding on too tightly to what was or what is or the pain of expectation and every possible thing that could possibly cause emotional pain because it is easier to manage physical pain than it is to deal with emotional pain. While in deep thought, the plane hit the runway and as it took off, that’s when I felt my heart rate increased.
Prior to this flight, I typically sat along the aisle and if I happened to sit by the window, I would close the window throughout the flight. But this time I didn’t close the window. I looked through as the plane took off into the clouds. Then I remembered this quote “Courage is not the absence of fear but the triumph over it.” So at that moment, I decided to enjoy the breathtaking view of the beauty of nature despite my racing heart which was not racing as much as the last time I boarded a plane.
Then came the announcements about the oxygen mask; the flight attendant said: “make sure to put the mask over your mouth and nose as oxygen will be flowing, not alcohol to sip on!” (laying emphasis on nose and mouth). That elicited some laughter which did lighten the tension that appeared to be in the air. Yea I was paying attention in case of something in the announcement had changed and yes something has changed. I’ll let you find out when next you fly that way you too get to pay attention. Our paying attention not only during flights but in other areas of life could not only save our life but that of others.
While I enjoyed the view, my eye caught a body of water and I immediately remembered a book I had read. Oh yes, I just had to throw in the book! The Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell which I have mentioned in a previous blog post. Remembering this book made me have a greater appreciation for God’s creation, the influence of nature during an emergency landing, why airports are constructed the way they are and near a body of water. The fine details, skills, and technique in landing heavy against the wind not long after taking off and the importance of a nanosecond with regards to making a decision from logic versus emotion in emergency situations.
In the media, a plane incident appears to be depicted as a result of a single issue but this book pointed out a combination of an average of seven consecutive errors influencing the outcome of an emergency landing situation with insights from previous renowned pilots and in-depth studies of other emergency landings.
Wondering what information about aviation, pilots and emergency landing has to do with those of us who aren’t pilots? Even though after reading this book I felt like an imaginary pilot! (wink!). What I learned from that section of the book is how an individual's personality, culture, and mindset influences the outcome of emergency situations. Including a combination of other external aspects when fear arises and the importance of remaining calm and collected. This has translated into real-life situations for me where I have found that calmness helps me to better manage situations with logic rather than emotions. Calmness is not weakness, it is a strength. The ability to demonstrate emotional control requires a whole lot of strength. Emotional control does not mean void of emotions, it is the ability to manage emotions, knowing which emotions to display, when and how. Emotional control may appear to contradict vulnerability which is a strength as briefly mentioned in a previous blog post.
Think about your greatest fear or all that you fear. Think of situations that happened which elicited fear and how you responded. Would you respond the same way given the outcome you got or differently if it happened again? If yes, why? If no, why not?
The purpose is not to eliminate fear or prescribe a specific way of how to respond in situations that elicit fear. But to encourage us to think about our thinking, to recognize fear when it arises and instead of letting it consume and control us, may we develop the courage to triumph over it.
Share your thoughts, ideas, comments, questions, experiences about fear, emotional control, vulnerability, books you have read and lessons learned for that will help someone navigate through a challenging situation.