I haven’t done scientific research, but I would bet that it’s safe to say that everyone has a list of things they are afraid of in this life.  Mine includes, but is certainly not limited to: snakes, frogs, apples (long story), and being stuck in small places or forced to sit still for an inordinate amount of time (i.e. more than 10 minutes).   Now, here’s the thing about fears; while one person can be deathly afraid of snakes, another person has two boa constrictors in their living room.  One person avoids trips to the Sears Tower or Empire State Building, another spends thousands of dollars per year on things like sky diving or flying lessons. Fears are as personal as they are irrational, and each person does his or her best to get through the things they don’t exactly dig.

For example, my fear of being stuck on a runway is countered by the fact that I love to travel.  Searching the web for fabulous airfare deals is one of my favorite past times. That said, my hotshot bargain hunter prowess falls to the wayside when I board the plane. To adapt, I try to focus on the destination rather than the journey when I’m waiting for take off.  Once in the air, I’m fine- it’s that “will we be stuck here for hours or won’t we?” thought that riles me up.  Not exactly rational- most people worry about crashing… I worry about being stuck.

I had to consider this a few weeks ago when my husband and I were flying to Spain. Now, the idea of a 7 plus hour flight is enough to cause this runnerchica to pack her Tylenol PM’s, ludes, and any other calming remedies just to get through.  But I was okay, because I knew my feet would be on Spanish soil once we landed. I told myself I could handle the long flight…

Boarding the plane, I placed my journal, magazines, and a book in the seat pocket in front of me. I had gum, water, and Tylenol. Soothing music was playing on my iPod and I was buckled in, ready to get going. My husband was next to me performing a similar pre-flight routine. I got so relaxed, in fact, that I fell asleep.  It wasn’t a deep sleep; I heard quite a bit of overhead cabin banging going on, and stewardesses talking.  As I switched from more asleep to more awake, I caught what they were saying.  “The bathroom door won’t close! Roy is coming from the airport to fix it though…”

Wait a minute… from the airport? Hadn’t we taken off? Weren’t we already airborne? I opened my eyes to check the time. Sure enough, a half hour had passed… but we hadn’t even moved towards the runway; we were still at the gate. Just as I started to freak out, I saw “Roy” burst on the scene. He clomped down the aisle to the bathroom, banged around a bit, and then exited in flash, like an airplane superhero.

Thank God… we could now take off, which was good… but then I considered the implications of having already taken my “sleep edge” off and had to face the fabulously long flight.

The pilot’s voice interrupted my thoughts. “Well folks, looks like we’re a bit backed up due to weather. We’re actually #15 in line right now. That should get us in the air in about 25-30 minutes…” Okay, #1, he said we were FIFTEEN in line. #2… I didn’t believe his 25- minute estimate for one second. I turned to my husband with an “OH MY GOD, can you believe it?” look on my face. But he was sleeping.  I looked around the cabin… most people were sleeping, or quietly reading and listening to music. I realized then that I was alone, face to face with one of my bigger fears.  I also realized that since it was so quiet, I probably should try not to hyperventilate in the paper bag I had found in my seat pocket. That might be kind of embarrassing.

Well, the 25 minutes turned into 45, just as I had suspected.  Perhaps it was the pre-flight wine kicking in, perhaps divine intervention, but somehow I managed to stay sane during the wait. I read, I slept, I told myself over and over that there was indeed oxygen circulating in the cabin and there’d be plenty left for the flight.  I listened to my iPod and relaxed with my favorite audio books. I did this until the captain’s voice announced that we were now second in line and that all electronic devices should be turned off.  Darn… I was just getting to a good part in the book and didn’t want to shut down. Would the pilot really know if I kept mine on?

The Spanish speaking pilot then came on and asked the same thing… roughly translated it went something like, “As a favor, would you please be certain your devices are turned off?”  Well, as a favor, I guess I could do this. Looking around, I saw that everyone else was complying. Those people who were not sleeping were taking off their earphones, and everyone was sitting quietly, reading or closing their eyes.  No music, phone, email, texting… nothing electronic was going on, and nobody was complaining or showing visible withdrawal symptoms.

This made me think…technology shut downs like this rarely happen with such a large group of people.  They rarely happen in my house for crying out loud.  So, to see such a calm compliance after a lengthy unexpected delay was quite shocking.  It was almost as if it was a relief for someone to say… you have no choice, shut off your technology and just be.

Just be… how often do we add that to our list of to do’s?  With no noise, no possibility of outside world communication, I considered what had just happened.  During that 45 plus minute wait, which for most was just an inconvenience, I had subconsciously “dug deep” and gotten through by “just being.” Granted, I did this with the help of technology, but it was the technology shut down afterwards that forced me to delve into my thoughts and figure out  what went on to prevent me from completely freaking out.

Just as mile 20 in a marathon poses challenges beyond human comprehension, the potential for personal challenges is there for every one of us each day.  They crop up on us, like a 45 minute runway delay, and we are left to muddle our way through.  When faced with things that stop us dead in our tracks, all we need to remember that it is possible to overcome these challenges, fears, and mysteries of life. The key to resolving these issues lies in pausing long enough to acknowledge the challenge, and then in finding our inner power that allows us to overcome whatever is blocking our way.  The big secret to unleashing this power is to simply Just Be.  Sorry, Nike… sometimes Just Doing It is way too much work.

Copyright 2009

by abbey algiers

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