Plane dots the sky above Rocky Mountain National Park. Laura Guzman, USA, 2015.

In the Event of Turbulence

Or, lessons learned through sweating & crying on planes.

Many of my geographical departures have felt like gut-wrenching excisions: imprecise removals of self from place. Departures from the cities of saints — Santa Fe de Bogotá, San Antonio, St. Louis, São Paulo — forcing me to feel the drag of time. For years, I often found myself crying as my plane cruised down a runway, heaving up against stubborn gravity.

In some ways, I know these tears were rooted in an intense — some claim “illogical” — fear of flying that ebbs and flows as I hop on and off scores of planes. For me, each flight is an exercise in facing death, wherein I mentally re-play too many episodes of “Air Disasters.” This explanation for the tears holds true, especially given my existentially-preoccupied mind, but it’s not everything. As I traveled, each take-off was (and is) a visceral reminder that I have no clue what is going to happen next, and so little control over it all.

Laura Guzman, Kolkata, India, 2015.

Once in the air, though dramamine and malbec work as an ersatz tranquilizer, the only way is through. In the clouds, I have to acknowledge that all comfort I clasp — through love, family, purpose, home — can be relied upon to disappear. Efforts at seeking stasis are for naught, both mid-air and on the ground. This intertwining of loss and lack of control form the contours of each tear as the plane cruises along.

Life back on the ground is no different. I can’t control my life situation any more than I can control the plane. I can’t escape the ever-changing flow of painful emotions — from fear to heartbreak to self-defeat to worry — any more than I can jump out of the plane and expect to land alive. The truth is that this coming and going, dipping and bumping, is inherent to life and, perhaps, is life itself.

Loss, and our lack of control over it, is embedded in everything. Unpredictability is the guiding force of our days and years, even if we do our damned best to pretend otherwise. Though for me this loss+change pairing has historically been easiest spotted from an airplane, I shouldn’t for a second think the duo disappears once on firm ground. It’s all tenuous.

Unpredictability is the guiding force of our days and years, even if we do our damned best to pretend otherwise.

Inevitably, I land. Back on the ground, if I blame the tears on my mortal fear of flying, it’s easy to just switch back to the normal mode of being wherein I fear loss, and stubbornly cling to all illusions of control. But what happens if I lean to the other side of things? If I pay attention to the tenuousness of everything except the razor-edge of the present? If I continually remember that I am not, in fact, in control of all that much?

Just chill. Laura Guzman, Thailand, 2015.

I think, and I’m still not sure on this, but I think I start to learn acceptance. Acceptance of the brusque landing, of the inevitable dragging forward of time, of my being a passenger in this here universe. Acceptance doesn’t diminish pain — hurt is hurt — but it does make the pain normal, unsurprising, and nothing to be afraid of. Acceptance doesn’t make me an immobile bystander. It gives me the space to respect the histories of what I lose each moment, while granting me new energy to keep exploring as time whisks us all ahead. I can accept by saying “Yep, I kinda wish I could stay here forever instead; Goodness, this hurts; Oh yes I miss you; Ugh, I don’t know what’s happening,” and then moving on without dragging fear with me.

Maybe next time I hit that patch of “rough air” — and start sweating profusely — I will remember that I am meant to peacefully greet these bumps and their on-ground counterparts. Greet them, let them rattle philosophic wanderings loose from the crevices of my brain, and then let them go.

Thanks for reading! If you’re curious about my other learnings (like what happened when my apartment was broken in to and I slept through it all), check this piece out. And of course ❤ if you liked this.