Fifty Years of Progress

What goes around comes around, they say. The first picture shows my cousin, Timmy, and me, as we tried to push an old reel mower through the front yard in 1956. The second picture shows me this morning, pushing a comparable new reel mower through our sparse backyard.

When we had this new ranch built, our contractor skimped on the seeding of the yard, and we couldn't afford to get it professionally done, nor could we afford to buy more dirt, so we are making do. We left our old power mower at the former house, so when it came time to get another mower, Ed opted for this beauty, which, of course, is quite stylish now that everyone is trying to protect the environment and save on fossil fuels. I went out this morning to mow, didn't have to pull and tug to start a power mower, didn't have to plug in anything or gas up anything - just grabbed the mower and went. It was efficient, kept the neighborhood quiet on this Saturday morning, and gave me plenty of exercise (especially on the hill). One small step for a woman - one giant leap for the journey to simplicity!

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Reflecting on my history of “flight fright,” there were several contributing factors, as other people have suggested. One, fear of heights. Two, claustrophobia. Three, fear of the unknown. And four, which I consider primary, has been the feeling of being out of control.

I figure I’m in control when I drive my own car. Even if Ed or my sister or one of my kids or friends drives me around, I trust their judgment and skills completely. It gets more tricky on mass transportation, but at least if it’s on the ground, it feels more secure. After all, I could have always exited a bus or train at the next stop if I had been uncomfortable.

In a plane, you’re pretty much stuck up there, totally dependent on other factors, the least likely of which is a terrorist being on board. Did the plane get inspected in a timely manner? Did the plane’s mechanic know what he was doing? How did the pilot sleep last night? Is the pilot healthy or suicidal? How are the air controllers feeling at the airports we will be using? How are their relationships - are they worried about something enough to be distracted? How is the weather? Any predicted storms or strong winds? All those questions went through my mind. Then, of course, one has to expand them. Assuming our pilot and plane are fit - what about other pilots and planes nearby?

My main problem, other than a tendency to chronic worry, is that I have a troubleshooting mindset. Whenever the hospital gives details of a new transcription platform or software purchase, or a new way of doing something, my mind immediately lands on everything that “could” go wrong. I have the gift/curse of being able to see both good and bad possibilities if we implement this new policy. So it is understandable that, going into any situation in my life, I apply the same logic.

What finally calmed me on the plane? Was it the fact that my head finally acknowledged that I had fewer risks than when I rode in a car? Was it the fact that my dear Matt and Sarah were by my side, encouraging me all the way? Was it the fact that I concentrated on the people I would get to see on each end of the journey? Was it the fact that I went into the whole thing with a good attitude? Yes, all those - but one more.

It was the fact that I surrendered. I have posted over and over about the Serenity Prayer being my guiding vision - To change the things I can, accept the things I can’t change, and have the wisdom to know the difference. Short on words, big on advice. I had to put my plane experience in the category, certainly, of “things I couldn’t change (control),” and surrender to acceptance. No matter how much I tensed my jaw, no matter how tight my muscles got, no matter how fast my heart was beating, I finally realized that up there in that plane, what would happen would happen, and there wasn’t a darn thing I could do about it. I might as well relax!

I have found that if I meet the “things I can’t change/control” with acceptance, that gives me a lot of energy left to deal with the things that I can change/control - like the fact we are (hopefully) getting cable installed this Wednesday, and we will be spending the ensuing weeks coming to terms with how we use it and how able we are to use it wisely on our journey to simplicity. That’s where I need to focus my thoughts.

Of course, like our determination to downsize and simplify, this is a challenge that will have to be met over and over again. It is not a one-time decision. Just as the high-speed Internet and TV will be there to challenge our choices every day, the next plane ride I take will again be another chance for me to either surrender to events or surrender to fear. In both situations, I hope my experiences have taught me enough about life to handle them wisely.

The sky's NOT the limit!

I’m back in Maine, which means, of course, that I survived the four flights that I had dreaded. With an optimistic attitude and a little lorazepam, I made it. I never did have to use the “freak-out” coupons that Matt and Sarah gave me, so I’m framing them. I bought a Continental Airlines plane keychain accessory to attach to my keychain, so every time I pick up my keys, I can say with satisfaction (and a bit of wonderment!), “Hey, I did that!”

This trip, besides giving me some absolutely incredible time with my family and friends, has given me yet another reason to believe in myself. Every time I look at my keychain, I will again realize my potential. Every time I gaze at the unused “freak-out” coupons on the wall, I will remember that I overcame a paralyzing fear of flying.

As with anything, the encouragement I received from my family and friends proved instrumental in my success. Ed gave me his blessing to make the trip, and Sarah and Matt took an understandable risk in accompanying me, considering my past experiences. I appreciate the fact that no one tried to belittle my anxiety, and instead of saying, “Oh, it’s nothing. It’ll be fine,” they acknowledged my anxiety and tried to ease my fear, and they all understood the significance of my ability to conquer it. Their support was invaluable.

Once again, I have come to realize that I am still capable of doing more than I think I can do. Without such challenges to give me the opportunity (and necessity) to expand my comfort level a little, how will I otherwise realize my potential? This is not to say that I am now anxious to take silly or dangerous risks just for the challenge. But I know that in a case of a fear that prevents me from doing something I really want/need to do, it is worthwhile to tackle. And thus I take one more step in my growth.

While in Memphis, I was amused to see the cross-stitch picture I had given my mother many years ago. It features a small chicken sitting atop a huge egg, and under it, just these words: Never say “I can’t." I will try to take that to heart. I may say, “I don’t want to,” or “It makes me uncomfortable to,” or even “I'm scared to,” but I’ll try not to say, “I can’t.” Every one of us has unique challenges. What may freak me out may be easy for you, and what makes you sick to your stomach may be effortless for me. For whatever reason, most of us are afraid of something and that fear is holding us back in some way. We doubt our abilities, negate our power, and succumb to pessimism - all of which drains our energy and limits our lives. Here’s to the challenges - and here’s to family and friends who choose to encourage and inspire! Thanks, everyone! You are all my heroes!

Taking Flight in Stages

Have you ever sung opera on a plane? I have. Have you ever sobbed uncontrollably on a plane for no reason? I have. Have you ever had a perfect flight in perfect weather, and when asked at the end of the flight, “Did you enjoy it?” replied rudely, “NO, I DIDN’T!!” Yep, I’ve done that too.

I’ve only flown twice in my life - both times a few days apart in October 1994. Ed and I were flying from Tennessee to Maine to close on our Victorian house. We had tickets to fly from Nashville to Boston, change planes, then fly to Bangor. We had plans to reverse the trip exactly on the way back. It was a gorgeous, sunny day. The flight was without turbulence of any kind. It was even years before 9/11. Yet I freaked. I didn’t have the foresight to visit my doctor to get an anti-anxiety medicine, so I tried to make do with a Tylenol PM. It didn’t work. I was totally in panic mode. I tried everything I could to distract myself. I sang opera (in a very quiet way). I recited poems. I cried. I tried to read a book. Then I cried some more. Finally, the guy in front of us turned around and said in an exasperated voice, “Lady, if you see me break this window and jump out, THEN you can panic. Until then, just SHUT UP!” I was so anxious, I had not even considered the fact that other people were paying attention to me. When we were exiting the plan in Boston, the flight attendant smiled, handed me a plastic pin and said cheerily, “Here are your wings! How did you like your first flight?” I said truthfully, “IT WAS TERRIBLE!” Well, I wasn’t the only one who thought it was terrible. Ed decided then and there to just lose the money on the second flight tickets and we rented a car to drive to Maine. He said, “No way am I getting on another plane with you until you've had a few days to calm down!”

On the way back, we retraced our steps and drove the rental car to Boston, and managed to survive another panicky flight home.

OK, so I'm scared of flying. A lot of you out there (my cousin, Tim, for one) think flying is as easy as taking a taxi. But it freaks me out. I have nightmares about it. My palms get sweaty just thinking about it. Hey, I can watch a detailed surgery on Discovery Health and can look at pictures of open sores and horrible skin conditions in a medical textbook and say, "Cool!" Just don't ask me to get on a plane!

Fast forward to 2008. In all these ensuing years, a lot has happened. 9/11, for one, changed the very fabric of flying. The government has fined airlines tons of money because they’ve been neglecting or ignoring safety inspections and requirements. Each year I am more aware of my mortality. And into this quagmire of anxiety I go again.

I’m leaving with my son, Matt, and daughter-in-law, Sarah, on Wednesday morning to fly to Memphis (changing planes at Newark). They had planned on going to Memphis to visit family by themselves, but asked me to accompany them on the spur of the moment. (This was before they knew the details mentioned above, and before they were totally aware of the extent of my panic attacks about flying). And just on the same spur of the moment, I said, "OK!" Ed was agreeable to my going (which shocked me), and Uncle Sam’s rebate check allowed me to buy a ticket, and I soon thereafter went to the doctor to get a lorazepam prescription. I had to buy luggage with wheels (didn’t need any before on car trips), had to buy some of those travel size toiletries for security inspection (didn’t have that much security on our trip in 1994), and, of course, print a copy of my obituary just in case (it’s sitting on my sewing machine). Matt and Sarah gave me two professionally designed coupons that they lovingly created, each good for one “freakout” - with specific instructions in fine print not to copy or reproduce them (and don’t believe I didn’t think about it!). They advised me to ration them, maybe use one on the way down and one on the way back, because when the coupons are gone, they’re gone. They assured me they would emotionally support me through two “freakouts,” but after that, they will pretend not to know me.

So here I am - full of two competing emotions. I’m insanely excited to see my family and surprise my mother - and I’m scared to death of getting on those planes. But I’m determined to get through this with a good attitude, because, even though there are many things about the trip I cannot change, my attitude is something I can certainly control. I’m going on this trip with the attitude - even if I feel as if I’m just acting - of this being a great adventure and exciting and, yes, even FUN, and I am going to concentrate on the positive part of the trip and downplay the negative. If I go into it with the idea that it will be scary and I will be unmanageable, I’m sure that it will play out that way. So I’m going to act. They say when you feel depressed, if you smile and try to act like you’re happy, your amazing body and mind will actually start to come into line with happiness - in other words, fake it enough and you won’t have to fake it anymore. So that’s my plan. I'm going to act as if I'm up for an Academy Award. I'm going to be the most joyous, excited, fun-loving plane aficionado that anybody has ever seen.

I’ll post next week on how everything turned out - if I’m still around. I’m not such a bad actress, either. All in all, I’d rather be acting the part of a carefree traveller than a dying opera singer. The curtain goes up at 6:38 a.m. next Wednesday. Wish me luck! (More importantly, wish Matt and Sarah luck!)