Like many others, I haven’t traveled much since the Covid pandemic began. A few day trips and a weekend in Wisconsin had been the only travel for me since a business trip to LA in January. My daughter’s move to North Carolina last week necessitated a road trip and a return flight – my first Covid flight.
And so I prepared. I booked a hotel room for the halfway point instead of “driving until tired” and then finding a place to sleep. I made sure it was in a safe area and we stopped before dark. The next day, we rolled into Charlotte, checked into a brand new Holiday Inn Express (clean and covid approved) and waited for the movers to arrive with her furniture. We arranged furniture, stocked the fridge, and spent several days exploring Charlotte, her new home base. Then it was time for mom to board the plane back home.
This is when the “turbulence” kicked in – as a metaphor for life during covid and as a flight condition. Considering I grew up in an aviation environment, flying in small planes with my dad and even soloing at 16, I’m a bit of a nervous passenger. Maybe I know too much. Years ago, before I had my own children, I lost my oldest brother Joe when his small aerobatic plane went down. Weeks after his death, I was on our companies turbo-commander en-route to a trade-show (ironically, the NBAA business aviation event) when we hit a pocket of turbulence during a thunderstorm. I was seated across from my dad who was napping as he often did on flights. We hit a big bump and he opened his eyes, glanced over at me, tightened his seatbelt, closed his eyes and resumed napping. I remember thinking, “ If he’s okay with this, I’ll be okay”. My brother, who was flying the plane, got us to the ground safely (as he did many times in these conditions) cementing my respect for well trained pilots.
I thought about this as my daughter dropped me off at the airport. We exchanged a long hug and lots of declarations; “I’m so proud of you”, “drive safely”, “have a safe flight”. Then she headed back to her apartment and I navigated an airport for the first time since Covid.
Once I got settled at my gate, I pulled out my phone and posted a comment about flying for the first time since covid” – because, social media… A few minutes later, a friend saw my post and texted that her husband was on the same flight (there is only one flight in and out of our small airport due to the pandemics affect on airline travel).
My friend’s hubby is a coach for the NBA and was headed to visit family after coaching in the bubble. We chatted for awhile at the gate. I asked him about life in the NBA bubble and he asked me if I was still writing my blog. Turns out he is also a blogger and I guess we “writers” stick together. I took this as a nudge to write about this trip. It’s hard to know what to write during this time. Should everything be about covid? Will anything else seem insensitive or shallow? I mulled this over as I waited for the boarding call.
Once my group was called, I made my way down the jetway and before stepping into the plane, peeked into the window to the cockpit to see the pilot for our flight. He was snacking on Pringle’s and looking at his phone. I know enough pilots to know that this is not cause for alarm. They perform all the necessary preflight protocols – but are only human and humans snack.
But flying in iffy weather is another issue altogether. In preparation for my trip home, I’d been neurotically monitoring the weather in Charlotte, Champaign and other cities en route. If you’ve read this far, you know that I’m not a fan of turbulence. I know it’s a comfort issue. I know the aircraft can handle it and I know the pilots are trained to handle it. I know this because I work for a flight simulation company. But the human mind and the human body reacts to stimuli and not always intellect. I knew the weather was clearing but residual currents and those beautiful puffy cumulus clouds mean vertical air movement, aka turbulence.
Fortunately I’ve learned to use relaxation and breathing techniques (thanks to yoga training) to calm my mind. During take off, I close my eyes, breathe in five counts, breathe out five counts, relax shoulders, repeat. Once at altitude, I opened my kindle and started reading my current book club selection. When we hit a pocket of rough air, I closed my eyes and resumed breathing technique, sometimes adding a mantra. This time is was: “dad has this, Joe has this” therefore “I have this”.
This was the first flight for me since my dad passed away in May. I felt very connected to him and my brother – as I often do when flying. I realized this flight was becoming very symbolic to me.
So many turbulent thoughts. Leaving my daughter in a new city. Traveling during Covid. Coming to terms with my fear of turbulence and turning to loved ones who’ve died, for wisdom. Thinking about Dad. Thinking about writing. Thinking about going home to my husband, son and dogs. Thinking about turbulence in so many ways in the time of Covid. Sometimes it takes time for things to sink in. Things are starting to sink in.
We are all in this together. Not the same boat (or airplane) but the same storm. The same turbulence. We can get through this. I encourage learning relaxation and meditation techniques. Stay creative. Stay connected.
Thanks AG and KT. Every connection happens for a reason.