Years ago I was flying from Calgary, AB to Hamilton, ON. It was December the skies were grey and the outside temperatures were formidable. The lady sitting next to me was visibly nervous. She fidgeted with seatbelts and arm rests. She adjusted the seat back several times trying to ensure it was in its full upright position. As the airplane doors were closed and the engines started up she clutched the arms of her seat and stared straight ahead. Her breathing was shallow and she seemed suddenly pale. I couldn’t help notice this frenetic anxiety building in her. I turned towards her and casually asked, “Do you fly often?” I already knew the answer but it seemed a good conversation starter and I thought it might help dissolve the visceral vibe. She turned to answer, her eyes full of unleashed fear, “No. Do you?” Even as she answered, the plane did a little jig and she startled.
I smiled, “Oh yes! I’ve been flying my whole life.”
She tried to smile, her lips stiff and strained. “Is that normal?” she asked as again the plane groaned and shifted into reverse. We were only just now leaving the gate. It was going to be a long flight for sure. I nodded using a reassuringly pleasant expression. “I’ve been flying since I was 8 years old when we moved from Canada to Pakistan. I can’t even begin to tell you how many flights I’ve been on, how many times I’ve traversed the globe. How about you watch my face? If I get nervous you should get nervous but if I’m relaxed you can relax. I’ll let you know if there’s anything out of the ordinary going on.” She nodded. Her eyes filled with tears. “Thank you,” she managed to whisper.
And then I started chatting. I asked her questions. I told her stories. I pulled out humour and anecdote galore. When the plane lurched, when the engines roared for take off, when turbulence tickled the plane’s underbelly, I would quickly reassure her, “That’s normal, we’re fine. That’s what happens. Those are the engines. We’re still ascending. That’s the beep indicating you can take your seatbelt off. That’s a little rough spot. Totally normal. Nothing to worry about.”
For three hours and forty minutes she watched my face. She never stopped looking the entire flight.
When we landed in Hamilton and the plane had come to a complete stop at the gate, she took off her seatbelt and stood up. She turned to me one last time, her eyes filled with tears again, and she hugged me! “Thank you so much. I couldn’t have done that without you. Thank you so much.” And she was gone.
Three weeks ago we had two back-to-back tornado warnings. Kansans are very laid back about such things. They take storms in stride. Many seem to love the cloud formations and the drama that unfolds in the sky. I, however, feel oddly queasy every time a storm comes to town. I feign a calmness that isn’t mine for the sake of our children but inside my own climate begins to change. I battle nervousness and fear each time. Panic piles up like the clouds. My insides turn that strange shade of green the skies embrace during tornado time.
I learned several years ago to watch Lowell’s face. When he’s relaxed during a storm I relax. Often I ask him several times during a storm, “Are you nervous?” He reassures me and I carry on. There have been a couple of times that I can see nervousness creep on to his expression. He gathers a few more emergency supplies. He calls out for us all to get shoes on our way to the basement. Then I know it’s serious and I pray different prayers.
I’m so grateful for people who have more experience than I do—people who’ve lived through things. I’m thankful for my friends who’ve survived the infancy, the middle years, the teenage years of their kids. I can tell them things and watch their faces and know we’re going to get through this. Some friends have already emptied their nests and I’ve seen the loss and the loneliness days pass and they’ve learned to live quieter with joy. I’m thankful for those who’ve survived financial fits. I can live simply, pray like crazy and study their faces. It’s going to be okay. Our needs will be met. God will give us this day our daily bread. I have friends who have survived menopause and mid-life crisis. I have friends who have lived through dark days. Some of my friends live with people with anxiety disorder or depression. I’ve watched their faces and I’m reassured. God is still faithful. We will get through this. I know others who have endured deep tragedy. Still others who have ridden constant waves of transition and change and they’ve come through. It helps to have someone who’s been through it lend you their face and their reassurance. Their story might not look exactly like yours but in many ways, in significant ways, they understand. And they know, because they’ve lived it, that it’s going to be okay.
Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. My eyes are always on the Lord, for he rescues me. My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.” I love the Lord because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because he bends down to listen. –And so I walk in the Lord’s presence as I live here on earth keeping my eyes and my heart forever fixed on Him. (Ps 23: 4;Ps 25:15; Ps 27:8; Ps 116:1,9)