I enjoy flying but there is that moment where we take off and land that often gives me a slight version of the heebie-jeebies. As the plane picks up speed I make the sign of the cross as does my wife (unless she’s already asleep in which case I make one on her forehead for her). I almost always sit in the aisle because of my long legs and my bad knee. And besides, as Walt “Clyde” Frasier once said, “Always sit in the aisle, never in the widow! Who has ever heard of a plane crashing in the middle?”
My friend Fr. Charlie Donohue once told me of a flight he was on days after his ordination that appeared to be headed to its doom—it just dropped quickly for no apparent reason, the masks fell…the whole 9 years.
In other words, your worst nightmare.
They eventually recovered and the pilots came on and assured everyone things were OK. The woman next to him breathed easier and they started talking about the experience. She began to slap him on his arm:
“AND YOU! You-(slap)-were-(slap)-so freaking-(slap-slap-slap)-CALM! How did you do that?”
He replied, “Well I just became a priest a few days ago, so I figured if I was going to die, well then, this would be a pretty good time to do so!”
Other friends had a similar story at a conference. Their plane to Chicago just dropped out of the sky. My friend and then Executive Director of NCYAMA, Michelle Miller, looked at the woman next to her and said,
“Hi we haven’t met yet. I’m Michelle and you’re probably the last person I’m ever going to see–so we should probably be friends.”
Thankfully, they were able to get the nose of the plane up and she reached her destination safely albeit not “uneventfully”. She reported later that she was no longer fearful of flying because “let’s face it, it can’t get worse that THAT.”
At her words I said, “I’m never flying with you! You just jinxed yourself! It could have been a LOT worse! The plane could have crashed!”
So as summer months lead to travel for many, my friend Ginny Moyer, is no different. Over at her blog she discusses her fear of flying and how it’s different these days because she’s the mom of two young boys.
But as we took off on the second flight of the trip back home, I looked over at Matthew as he pressed his face to the glass and exclaimed over the tiny people below. He was loving it, that swoopy feeling of the plane shifting direction, the novel feeling of being up in the air like a bird. There was no room in him for fear; it literally didn’t occur to him to imagine the worst-case scenarios. And I realized that I wish I were that way. I guess it’s the price of eating the fruit of knowledge, and maturity: I’ve been around long enough to read news stories of plane crashes and airline tragedies. He hasn’t. He’s in that age where it’s nothing but adventure, and excitement. He trusts, completely, that the air will hold him.
He’s got the advantage over me, in other words.
There’s an old saying, sort of a challenge, that I’ve heard often: What would you do with your life if you weren’t afraid?
Perhaps, that friends, is a metaphor for life. Because we’re all afraid of something. Facing our fears is indeed a part of being a mature adult. But it’s also a statement of faith. As Catholics, we should be able to live fearlessly because we believe that God cares for us, forgives us, and that even if we die, God will indeed welcome us, despite our failings to join with God in the beatific vision.
Do not be afraid. The most often used words in the Bible.
And yet many fear dying–or I should say not knowing for certain what lies on the other side of life. The opposite of faith is certainty…and because we are not God we are not certain of just about anything. Faith indeed is risk.
And that indeed can bring on anxiety.
But embracing that fear and walking into it often gives us a passion for life. It betrays our own strength that we might actually be a bit stronger than we actually are. It also, I think, betrays a belief in God–perhaps an unconscious one for many. Because each time we face our fears, even if the worst thing happens, we discover that God will be there for us, now, in this moment and even at the hour of our death.
If we are not afraid, we can accomplish much. What if we weren’t afraid to speak out for the poor–would poverty be eliminated? What if we weren’t so afraid to forgive others who wrong us? Would our world be more peaceful and harmonious? What if we weren’t afraid to stand up for ourselves when someone unjustly accuses us of something? Would we stand a bit stronger and gain the respect of colleagues and adversaries?
The truth is that we are often too afraid to even move. And in that paralysis, we entertain evil, giving it the power to tell us that we are not good enough–perhaps even that we secretly think that God might not care.
Today, let us pray for the strength to able to believe. To know intuitively that God cares for us and to push aside the evil one beckoning us to believe that he just might not. After all, the Devil knows us well and will prey upon our insecurities. May God grant us peace, look not on our sin, but on our faith. And may God protect us from all anxiety and allow us to wait in joyful hope for the day when we see God face to face.