I think there have been two things clearly established on this blog: one is that I wear my knit bonnet approx. 90% of the time (I had no idea) and the other is that I don’t much like flying in airplanes. It’s the second one that’s on my radar again today, in anticipation of yet another flight tomorrow.
Before we went our first date, back when we hung out on campus for hours at a time but never left the university together, O was walking me to my car one evening after class. I was taking a trip in a few days and lamented the fact that I had to fly to get there. I have always been grateful, make no mistake, for the ability to see family and visit friends and do my job without needing a covered wagon and five months of my time. That in addition to possibly getting dysentery. But there isn’t always overlap in the Venn diagram of gratefulness and fear; I was wholly both, in this case.
After prompting me to explain what exactly I dreaded (‘plummeting down to earth from thousands of feet above the ground and dying alone in a fireball of screams and steel’) he said something I will never forget.
‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘that would be terrible. That would be really, really sad.’
And that was it. That was what he said, period, end of sentence.
I was silenced by his simple acknowledgement that the thing I feared would be awful if it came to fruition.
Most people want to solve the problem, see. They want to reassure, fix it, explain why it’s silly to be afraid of planes. With what I am pretty confident are kind intentions, they convince and cajole, not realizing that quoting statistics about the number of people killed annually by camels vs. those that die in plane crashes is more likely to make me avoid camels than to waltz cheerfully onto a plane. I know- have always known- that it is an irrational fear. Since I infinitely prefer to be rational, that’s one of the most embarrassing things about it.
That day, I tucked our conversation into a fold of my memory, O and I started talking about something else and things continued on their merry way. It was just a short moment and if I never brought it up again, O probably wouldn’t remember it at all. He was just being his normal self – a self that I feel indescribably lucky to be with every single day- and, in all truth, he may have responded the way did because it was the only thing he could think to say in the moment. He was not trying to be a Wise Counselor with a Philosophical Theory on how to respond to Admissions of Weakness. He was just being O and O is a good listener who does not tend to dismiss possibilities, whether they are good or bad.
His ability to hear and then proceed immediately to an easy acceptance of my rather non-adorable fear changed something for me. I realized that he would not- will not- always understand everything about me, but he wouldn’t dismiss those things he hasn’t experienced himself.
Every time I head to the airport, I remember this conversation, and every time, I am reminded to listen. To listen to my friends and my family and maybe even that girl sitting next to me in the coffee shop. I am reminded that not everything needs to be prodded and fixed, that just saying ‘uh-huh’ can make someone feel a little more understood.
Feeling a little more understood is a big deal.
And just think! If we can manage to shush for a minute and just hear someone else out, years later when that person goes to get on another airplane, they might still be a little afraid and that plane might still decide to have mechanical problems… but at least they will not have spent precious hours of their life looking up whether it’s true, what was quoted at them, that flying on a Tuesday is, statistically, the safest day of the week to fly.