My body is glued to the middle seat like a wax figure in a museum. My fingers wrap around my almost 10-year-old daughter’s hand.
I hear the wheels move forward, making the underbelly of our plane sound like its stomach is growling. The stewardess’s voice is a mix between Mary Poppins and Maleficent, asking passengers to pay attention to the emergency pamphlet, warning us if we don’t read the fine print it won’t end well for us. A laugh punctuates her statement. Half-joking, her serious tone oozes through the aisles and the passengers in front of me correct their posture, realizing in an instant this is a plane, not a scene from a middle-of-the-night dream. I do the same. I check my seat belt and glance over at my daughter’s lap, making certain the blue flaps meet in the middle and are connected around her small waist.
Within seconds, we are airborne. I glare at the clouds outside and view fiery dragons, a coffee cup, a woman with a curly hair-do and two bears hugging each other. Too nervous to talk, I sit quiet, while my daughter rests her head on my shoulder. Within minutes, she is sleeping as if she is tucked into her bed at home. I try to copy her calmness. Reclining my seat, my head tilts in her direction and for a brief second, I close my eyes. A minute later, the plane starts to wobble and my heart beat increases its pace. Unable to calm my restlessness, this feeling clenches tight, the pit in my stomach landing outside of my body.
I blink a few times, hoping my inner genie might will away this roller-coaster of ups and downs. The truth is, as much as I rationalize and talk to myself before I board a flight, I’ve never quite mastered the art of powering through turbulence. Instead, I fixate on it. Before the plane takes off, I check turbulence reports and during the flight, I listen for every double beep, trying to decipher the secret code between the pilots and crew. I pay attention when the pilot chooses to speak over the intercom, listening to him like he is the lead singer of my favorite rock band.
I dislike the marriage between unpredictability and uncertainty which is a key characteristic of turbulence. It is an apt metaphor for my life – my need to cling to routine and habit increase as I age. Holding on to the comfort of what I know, my coffee in the morning, a jog around the neighborhood, the phone conversations with my loved ones and writing in this space offers a way to navigate the prickly terrain of what may or may not come around the corner.
In the back of my mind, I am well aware of Joan Didion’s words, “Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant.” So many times in the last few years, I’ve witnessed how a singular second, moment or minute twists the direction of life onto a different path. There is no warning sometimes, much like the turbulence encountered on a flight. This knowledge heightens my fears, but also pushes me to appreciate the now of my moments. As I sat next to my daughter, watching her sleep, a momentary comfort settled into my bones. Powering through the turbulence, I felt the privilege of these brief seconds.
In my day-to-day life, lately, I’ve forgotten the cadence of this kind of appreciation. I’ve succumbed to the vortex of caring about the wrong things and in some instances, the wrong people. Redirecting my gaze toward goodness became challenging, since focusing on what I know doesn’t always push me to where I need to be.
Sometimes the rhythm of uncertainty rattles me just enough to open my eyes, pay attention and take notice.
Image: Sweet Home Under White Clouds by Jose Roberto V Moraes via Flickr.