The Real Reason for Turbulence

I wrote this post while on a plane, flying from Ancona in Italy back to the UK at the end of our honeymoon with my beloved hubbie Nige.

Know what I love about flying?

The way it makes you face death.

As Nige would say, “think about it”: You prepare for take off, and at some point (if you’re anything like me), a vision of a plane not quite managing to get off the ground pops into your head – completely uninvited of course. Even if only flashes through your mind for the briefest of moments, it is an image which nevertheless carries potency and power, instantly triggering primordial fear. Of course, your plane thunders along the runway, picking up speed and pinning you to your seat as you wash the world begin to rush by in a way that reflects day to day life in any major city, and before you know it, you’re a citizen of the sky, safe and not dead.

Then, perhaps, there is turbulence.

During turbulence, everyone tries their best to carry on as normal, reading, eating and sleeping. (Except for one time, returning from Barbados, when the turbulence was so bad that the overhead lockers opened, bags flew out and smacked people on the head and passengers left, right and centre started being sick. I prayed that day to just get the chance to see my mum one more time in my life. It was a simple request, and has thankfully been fulfilled many times over. How easily we forget what really matters.)

For frequent fliers, this carrying-on-as-normal is very easy to do; the turbulence is just an inconvenience in the way that potholes are on an oft-travelled road. For air stewards and stewardesses, it’s so normal that they practically dare it to even try and interrupt their daily routine of serving tea, selling bottles of perfume and maneuvering up and down the aisle with that compact little trolley that, to my childlike imagination, contains drawers and compartments full of magic.

But as unfazed and calm as we all try to be, engaging in some kind of unspoken, silent contract that we will not panic, for many fliers the unnerving bump-bump of the plane as it jars against the atmosphere reminds you of that buried fear that sits patiently just below your everyday chattering mind: the suddenly tangible fear of death.

Or perhaps of dying – the act or process of meeting the end of your life.

With Nige beside me, I feel safer; it would be alright to die by his side. Something about our companionship makes me less afraid to die. I realise something as we bump along, my eyes closed, head resting against the surprisingly comfortable blue economy headrest. My heart flutters a little, and not from the turbulence, but from the beauty of the image that my mind conjures. And what I realise is this:

Thousands of thousands of prayers almost certainly get uttered in people’s minds every single day by air passengers experiencing turbulence. Each of those prayers is unique, as similar as they may seem, in the way that snowflakes are unique, each with their own genetic DNA.

During turbulence, life’s extremely delicate balancing act is thrust, unwelcomed but inevitably, into your mind. And silently but collectively, God is summoned.Please God, let us live. Let me see my family again. Please let us be safe. Let us get there OK. Oh, God, that felt scary. Please, let us be safe.

I have this beautiful image in my mind of thousands of prayers being strewn across the sky every single day as planes take people all around the world.

I picture these prayers bursting forth in a moment of pure vulnerability, streaking across the sky, trailing behind the plane that carries them, each one leaving a unique trail in a unique colours. Pinks and blues, yellows and greens, purples and reds, cerises and magentas, aquas and pastels and brights. trailing like ribbons behind the plane that carries life from one country to another.

Daily contact with the divine. Daily connection to what really matters in life, if only for a split second and shrouded by a denial of the fear of death. A prayer-streaked sky above us, every single day that air travel continues to exist.

Perhaps that’s why God made some people afraid of flying – so that when they find the courage to fly, Love would be called upon, too.

Perhaps that’s why God invented turbulence.

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