My dad was a combat air patrolman in the Korean War and years later owned an airport and several planes. By that time he had obtained his commercial license and was flying charter trips to Victoria, British Columbia. He loved to fly.
I hated it.
My dad thought it was great fun to stall the plane or pull negative Gs, but it scared me to death. I never did see the excitement in his maneuvers. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust my dad’s abilities in the air. He had received an award from the Federal Aviation Administration for saving another pilot’s life when he flew up into a dangerous storm and had the other pilot “fly out on his wing.” My dad was an intelligent man, a phenomenal pilot, and was typically overly cautious. I just feared the unknown.
The only time in my life that I’ve ever been on a jet was when I flew to Hawaii with my older three children in 1994. We hit bad turbulence over the ocean, and it felt like that huge bird was going to break into three pieces. I seriously felt like I needed a sedative. I was cognitive even in those moments that statistics tell us we’re safer in the air than we are in a car. But, still, I feared the possibility.
My husband has a domestic violence conviction and has expressed extreme anger in front of the judge. He shows little interest in the children other than through his stated desires via court documents for custody and/or more liberal visitation. He has been awarded overnight visits but has not ever exercised that right. He can see them two weekends a month but typically only drives down once every four to six weeks. I even asked the court to grant him unlimited phone and email access to the children when I sought the restraining order over a year ago, yet he has never once called them or emailed them. We have verbally agreed to the same unlimited access for the divorce settlement but still no phone calls or emails. I have offered for him to keep the children longer on Saturdays, yet he has refused every single time, only wanting them for four hours. But, still, I live in constant fear that he will be awarded custody.
Today I took my children to a local farm. We went through the corn maze and picked pumpkins earlier in the week with our home school group. My youngest son wanted to shoot a pumpkin out of the farm’s grand machine though. Last year he shot the mini van parked in the field as the target. This year they had a school bus, and it had challenged him, calling his name, while he ran through the corn maze four days earlier. The zip line had challenged me, too. It called my name and taunted me with its superiority, with its grand height, and mocked my fears. I’ve never been on a zip line before, not even the small ones at friend’s houses that they’d set up for the youngest children. This one is huge–very tall and very long.
Haunting thoughts have always run through my mind. What if the line breaks? What if my feet slip, and I fall from the stand? What if they can’t stop me, and I hit the telephone pole? What if I slip out of the harness?
Today I stood in the cold chill of autumn and reasoned with myself that next year I’d feel stronger and could do it. Yes, I would aim for next year.
Suddenly someone else took control of my will. No! No more waiting! She shouted inside my head and reminded me that in the last year I have faced horrifying possibilities and realities that I did not feel equipped to face. I could certainly do this. So, I bought my ticket and stood in line.
The wait was excruciatingly long, long enough to give you plenty of time for second thoughts. It was long enough to watch people come and go and move through the stands and activities. One face I recognized, but I was unsure from where. It took a good while for me to realize that the gaunt face and covered, balding head of this thin woman belonged to someone I’ve known for years. Now, another fear struck me. What if I got cancer and didn’t live to see next year? What if this is the only moment in my life that I will ever have to conquer this fear?
With the harness strapped around my waist and up between my thighs, I stepped out onto the platform. I asked a few nervous questions and was assured nothing would happen. Time seemed to stand still for a few minutes, and everyone was silent. It was freezing up there. The wind seemed to blow much harder and was much colder that high in the air. They told me to close my eyes, that would help with the trepidation, to sit into the harness, and then just step off the platform. In those silent minutes I imagined the line snapping and me free falling into the old, green, rusty tractor. I imagined the line snapping back again like a long whip and throwing me into any of the other old pieces of farm equipment sitting down there along the driveway. I imagined my limp body being flung, face down, into the dirty pond of irrigation water. And, I stepped off with my eyes open.
I looked down at those things that I thought would bring certain pain and possible death. I flew past them. I was suspended in mid air, suspended nowhere in time. I breathed deep and tried to take in as much of the scenery as I could. It was beautiful. And, I was flying, fearlessly flying and free!