Go Placidly Amid The Noise And Haste

I've always been convinced that I'm going to die in a plane crash. I think it's a case of probability, of the idea that I'll only be able to take a certain number of flights before my luck runs out. I tend to think of flying in terms of those customer loyalty programs you get at coffee shops and sandwich places, where they stamp your card for the first nineteen Moccachinos you buy and then give you the twentieth one for free. I've taken countless, countless plane journeys over the last 26 years. I'm always wondering how many times my card has been stamped.

Yesterday, on the flight from Newark to Charleston, I had a window seat next to a slab of a man, a great big bear in a striped linen shirt. He didn't have hands, he had paws. He didn't have a neck, he had a large piece of roast beef in its place. He had a face like a bulldog, a tan from a bottle, and the entirely confident notion that yes, he could wear a man-bracelet and loafers without socks and not be teased for it, because if you teased him for it, Jesus, you'd find yourself in tiny pieces at the bottom of the Hudson quicker than you could say Uncle Vito.

As the plane ascended higher and higher, and I craned my neck to get a final look at the Ikea that had teased me cruelly and mercilessly from the departure lounge, we suddenly dipped sharply and awkwardly to the left. A second later, there was a disconcertingly audible BANG!, a noise I'd never heard on a plane before, a noise that sounded inherently wrong. Instinctively---it was funny how instinctively---the man and I both reached for each other, me with my left hand, he with his right. I grabbed for him without thinking, the way I would have grabbed for Sean or my mother or father, responding to a split-second of panic the first way I knew how. He did the same, perhaps in that sliver of an instant thinking me a wife or girlfriend or daughter, and for the briefest moment we were each another person.

I don't know whether we reached out to reassure or be reassured, to comfort or be comforted, to protect or be protected, but that tiny lurch towards each other---my heart hammering wildly in my chest, my breathing suddenly on hold, the panicked blur of a thought: is this it?---was so instinctive, so quick, and afterwards, when the plane levelled out and we all smiled nervously at each other, so suddenly and vaguely awkward, that it seemed somehow momentous, truthful, unabashedly honest. Perhaps that's all we ever want: to know that if it ends---when it ends---someone else is there, right there, in the seat next to us, holding our hand when it happens.

Jun 01, 2006

You amaze me. I loved this post. Welcome back to the US of A. We missed you.

Also we're glad you're back in one piece.

Jun 01, 2006

Holly, I love how raw this entry is, because you're right: in the end, we just want to know that we're not alone. I think it's the way we're designed, to need others. To need relationships.

We're glad you're home, safely.

Jun 01, 2006

What a sweet post! Nothing brings out humanity better than a crisis. Did you talk to the man after that or did you pretend like nothing happened?

Nothing But Bonfires
Jun 01, 2006

We pretended like nothing had happened! Even as I was following him off the plane when it landed, out towards the gate, I wanted to tap him on the shoulder and say "Hey, wasn't that weird, when we grabbed each others' hands?" but I thought that would probably just make it MORE awkward. Plus, as I said, he had a face like a bulldog, and that face was kind of saying "don't talk to me or I'll cut you."

Jun 01, 2006

Kind of makes me rethink my whole ticket buying approach of always trying to book a seat with no one sitting next to me...

Laura B.
Jun 01, 2006

Oh, god. What an amazing post.

Jun 01, 2006

What a beautiful post! It may be the PMS, but this totally made me cry. I have the same feeling of wondering how many times I can get on a flight and survive. Pretty dramatic, but I think natural for people who fly a lot. It seems sort of inevitable...isn't it odd we don't feel that way about driving a car or walking down the street?
Welcome home! Glad you are safe.

Jun 01, 2006

Great post, and one I totally agree with. What I'm curious about is whether el capitane ever got on the PA system and let you guys know what happened. That's my flying pet peeve: when something odd happens, and they don't bother to reassure you that everything's all right.

Nothing But Bonfires
Jun 01, 2006

No! He didn't! But he sounded either stoned or bored upon take-off so perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised.

Mary Dawn
Jun 01, 2006

this post made me tear up too, but i can't say anything that hasn't already been said...so what they said *wipes mah eyes*

Liberal Banana
Jun 01, 2006

Glad you made it back safely, and I hope your upcoming flight to Asia does cause you to grab your seat-neighbor at any point!

Jun 01, 2006

What a great post. I, too have grabbed others on flights. More than once. Not all of them appreciated it--but I got scared. One turned out to be a former NFL placekicker and we ended up getting wasted from San Francisco to Pittsburgh. He was nice enough to hold my hand when we landed. I knew I would never be that lucky again.

I am so sorry the Elizabeth IKEA taunted you. If it is ANY consolation, the employees there are BEYOND rude! It's a big IKEA, though.

Jun 01, 2006

So glad you made it back, and in one piece. The next best thing to your posts is anticipating where the next title reference will be from. Love this one!

Jun 01, 2006

I love this line, "he didn't have a neck, he had piece of roast beef in its place." What a great post - it reminds of the Anne Lamott essay where she's on the plane in very similiar circumstances.

I usually find myself making deals with God in planes, until I relax and read one of the ten thousand books I stuff in my carry on bag.

Welcome home! We're so glad you had a time!

Jun 01, 2006

This is lovely! Wow.

And I think so many people have that feeling - is this the last flight? - so don't feel alone in that!

Jun 01, 2006

When I was your age (look! I've become THAT old person)--when I was your age, I loved flying and never once thought about what might happen. After I had my first child, I started to have this low-level worry when we flew. Then I flew with him on September 13, 2001, on the first flight to leave Oklahoma City after the terrorist attacks, and somehow it gave me back my peace of mind, because if anything were to happen, at least we would be together, my children and me, and I would be there to hold their hands.

Glad you're home--sorry your pilot was stoned. Maybe the BANG! was his bong falling over . . .

Jun 01, 2006

"There's a problem with the left phalange. THIS PLANE HAS NO PHALANGE!"

Snigger. That scene from Friends always goes through my mind when I get on a plane.

So glad you are home safely. I don't think you are going to die on a plane. I think you are going to live to a ripe old age, retire somewhere warm and interesting and be the favourite relative of your extended clan for all your fun stories.

(And Susie, you will also be the favourite relative....er....)

Jun 01, 2006

that was great...kind of like my commuting on the train every day for 3 years to the city and noone ever talked to each other until the train broke down and everyone suddenly was in the same "club" and we were instant friends. I held a lady's hand once on a plane, years ago, before 9/11, she was so freaked out so I held her hand and we talked until she could calm down. It was making ME panic. I loved this post.

Jun 02, 2006

I hate flying! You better tell me it was one of those itsy bitsy planes, and not a 747 or else I'm not going anywhere this summer!! When I went to Australia for a school trip, we had to sit in alphabetical order with people, so I held the boy who was sitting next to me's hand. Now if I'm ever on a crazy flight, I always think of the time I managed to take off.

Jun 02, 2006

I wish I could be here among those marveling at the humanity and beauty of this post, but really, all I can think about is that I think I would have fucking DIED right then and there. Or screamed aloud, like an idiot.

So, the fact that you merely grabbed for his hand is admirable. I'd have been yelling "WE ARE ALL GONNA DIE. SAVE YOURSELVES!"

Jun 02, 2006

You just articulated my deep ceded feeling about airplanes.

And why my flight back to Canada from Taipei was my scariest ever: was convinced that my white ass would be sucked out the door first and all the Taiwanese people would
say "Oh, thank god it was just the whitey sucked out of here.) There was no one else gangly and English on the plane.

I would have liked a roast beef head next to me on that flight.

Jun 02, 2006

Dude! That was one knockout piece of writing, and you must immediately sell it to someone.

Fuckity fuck fuck. You know, I was a bit of a dilettante as an undergrad -- dabbled in this and that, and then someone came along whose painting I looked at and thought "Oh shit, I'm just bush league really." My other interests gradually fell aside, and I was left with writing: I would be a writer. I do write. Well, it has to be legal briefs if anyone's going to pay me, but whatever.

That entry of yours just now makes me thing I'm just a bush league writer, as well. Well done.

Jun 02, 2006

"think". grr!

Jun 02, 2006

In a 'the Squid and the whale' kind of way, I could have written that first paragraph! I mean... I FEEL like I could have.

I have this weird habit, even before the TV show LOST (another piece I could have written): I always look around in the plane and observe the other passengers, just in case we crash but survive and we all end up on a deserted island. Are THESE the people that I will live with and hunt with and collect berries with?

Jun 02, 2006

Oh yes, i can see this in the travel section of Vogue.

You have the gift of the Force, young Jedi.

Jun 02, 2006

I think of this every time I fly alone - not only would it just suck to die so long before I hope, but to die without being able to say goodbye to those I love or be comforted by them. I sit at the gate waiting for a twinge of intuition telling me to not get on the plane, and watch the people who preboard, trying to pick out who the air marshall might be. Once I am up in the air, I feel both helpless and free - if something is going to happen, it is entirely out of my hands.

Jun 02, 2006

I have the lovely bonus of being afraid of heights so flying creeps me right out. Fortunately, my last four flights have been with my great friend Beth who recognizes that I need to have my hand held at take-off and landing.

I loved this. I think every one needs a moment like this to realize that we are not alone, even when it seems like we are. It makes you appreciate people more.

Jun 02, 2006

What a beautiful post. And so true. We all rush around head down, appropriate personal space, etc, but there is a huge basic human need to connect. That sort of moment really brings it out.

Jun 02, 2006

Whenever I get seated on a plane, I always check to see if the person next to me looks like they'd be a source of comfort to me in the event of a plane crash. If not, I wonder how they would taste in the unlikely event that I would have to eat them. Just kidding!

No-neck dudes with furry paws who look like extras from the Sopranos always freak me out.

Welcome back, Holly. Glad you survived alright!

Jun 02, 2006

I was in the air in a small commuter plane on 9/11 and then again on 9/14 to get back home. I had the same flight attendant but on the 14th the flight had only 6 men in suits and me as passengers. She walked down the aisles checking our seatbelts and touching each one of us on the arm. It was so comforting. It's amazing how that one reaching out touch comforts us. None of the business men on the flight acknowledged the touch but you could see the tension drain from their faces when she did it.

Jun 02, 2006

Wow! You have managed to make something terrifying into something really beautiful. Nicely done! And I'm glad it wasn't anything serious...

Jun 04, 2006

Ahhh flying! I love it so - but sadly the older I get, the more Cape Cods I have to drink to get on the plane. So happy you made it down ok and old Ham-face didn't bite you. Welcome back to the US!

Jun 06, 2006