how fear almost beat out my wanderlust

Puddles everywhere. Lightning everywhere. Raindrops pelting my frizzy mane.

And I wore flip flops today. Great.

Each step I took, no matter how careful, splashes of wet hit my toes, my ankle, my pants. Puddles of mucus, I assume.

In alliance with Mother Nature, the locals spit extra hard today and tricked me into wearing sandals to work, I swear of it! Now the universe laughs and people stare at my 8.5 mega wide platforms that I call feet.

The only person in the anthill of commuters without an umbrella…a westerner, of course, without proper shoes. Didn’t I realize that the 80-degree muggy day that cried out for shorts and a tank-top would turn into a downpour 50-degree evening that required socks and neon Puma shoes? Because I definitely did not get the memo.

Step by careful step, I made my way back to my bitter cold air conditioned apartment. During that thirty minute tip-toe, everything around me set off something inside of me that we like to call negativity.

You are charging $1.60 for an umbrella? Heck no! I’m walking home without one.

Seriously, why is it that anytime it rains, the streets smell like diapers and expired curry?

Why is everyone afraid of rain? It’s just water, people!

My negativity did not stem from being in China. No, I had plenty of negative American days. And I have learned over time that it is always triggered by something deeper not only that generous curse gift Eve left us ladies to deal with each month. Something deeper than a dreaded calendar day.

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I started my period. So that’s why I cried uncontrollably over a jelly bean last night.

– Zooey Deschanel (Meme)

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My tip-toeing ceased. My feet planting itself fully into the cold drenched street.

In that pause, my brain allowed my conscience to know what the trigger was. I had just left a conversation (with both western and Chinese English speakers) about where to travel in Asia. So many dreams of mine finally within reach: Tibet, Mt. Everest, Great Wall of China, Hong Kong, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, the list goes on and on and on.

The obvious question was doom to arise. How to get there? Overnight train? Speed train? Bus? Taxi? Metro? Airplane?

Airplane.

That was it. The trigger.

Little Bethany was three or four years old when she took her first flight from Hawaii to the mainland. Since that foggy memory, I have ridden on hundreds, perhaps in the thousands of airplanes. My freshman year of college alone I flew about 200 planes. For someone who has meandered to and fro, you might expect me to be a pro, both logistically and emotionally, when it came to flying. So why is 29-year-old Bethany standing in the middle of a rising pond of mucus on the verge of tears?

Why do I have to be so scared now? Now at a time in my life when I am the most geographically, financially, logistically and passionately able to accomplish so much that my inner-wanderlust cries out for.

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fernweh | a crave for travel; homesick for a place you’ve never been

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March 2014.

I kissed Tk goodbye at the Oakland airport. Four airplane rides stood between me and a three-week trip to Europe with my little sister, Jo. I would fly to Denver where we would meet before leaving for a longer Reykjavik-Stockholm-London commute (that’s what we get for being too cheap to pay for a non-stop flight). I sat down in the far back with the C group. That’s what I get for being lazy and flying Southwest.

An empty chair separated me and a 20-something guy. Behind me were three African American guys, who if they weren’t flying Southwest, I would think were successful professional athletes. Side-note: No offense Southwest but I assume highly paid athletes bow out of your services. I overheard their conversation with a friendly flight attendant that this was the first flight ever. Whoa! I can’t imagine how it would feel to be an adult and never flown before. Mind-boggling, I assume. I turned around and smiled at them. What we didn’t know then is that their first flight might convince them to be their last.

Now, I think that it’s best that i don’t recall everything that happened on that flight. For one, it’s now been a year since the incident but honestly as I type this I am getting too upset. And I don’t want to scare away my staring compatriots on the subway. Not today. Maybe next week. Secondly, I don’t know if it will be beneficial to relay all of the specific events that occurred…to spread fear where there shouldn’t be for others. This rarely occurs and it would be unfair of me to put thoughts into your head now.  And finally, when I returned home, my closest friends didn’t understand. Or they thought they did but didn’t. I don’t blame them. I have been the friend who tries to empathize but ends up not really understanding. And for one to have one’s experience diminished by an aloof response, no matter how meaningful, is hurtful and rather frustrating. And I rather not open myself up to such responses in this blog.

Oh I totally went through turbulence once on my way to Detroit once, my friend spouted out.

Were people screaming? I asked.

No, it wasn’t bad, she replied.

Yeahhh, I don’t think it was the same thing, I said kindly, trying to shield my frustration.

I also received the rational-responses from friends. There is something though about knowing the truth, the statistics, but feeling the pain. Your brain can’t comprehend both when the wound is so fresh.

Yeah, but you are more likely to die in a car crash.

Planes are built to withstand any malfunction, weather or turbulence. 

How often do you hear of a plane crashing? 

If it was your time to go, it was your time to go. But it wasn’t!

In those moments, a college memory comes back to me of when I worked at a non-profit. My coworker returned from a trip from the East Coast the previous day. At work she was pretty emotional and shaken up. In the privacy of her office, she divulged her experience on her flight the previous day. Mid-flight, she wrote a goodbye note to her husband hoping that the rescue crew would find the note on her body and give it to him. Since then, I have never heard of anyone else speak of that type of situation on a flight. That was, until I experienced it on my own that March day.

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I have been a flight attendant for 16 years and have never experienced anything like that before.

– Scott from Southwest
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Scott offered me a whiskey double. It was 8:30am. I sucked back my tears, thanked him and tried to soothe my shaking body. For the next two hours, the cabin received anything the airline could give away free: group counseling outside of the lavatories, excessive alcohol and snacks, frequent encouraging reports from the pilot “Denver is welcoming you with fantastic spring weather!” And “Oh, if you look out on the right side of the plane, you can get a great photo of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains!” We all naturally forced a light-hearted conversation with one another about who was doomed to keep flying that day:

This is my first of four flights, I shared.

 What are your plans on your trip? said my new friend as he tried to take my mind off of my impending four flights.

Man, I know there’s a reason why I haven’t flown until now, the airplane virgins behind me joked. Kind of.

All of us gave out a nervous laugh.  There for a moment, I felt close to strangers. It’s amazing how certain events unite human beings who might have otherwise been isolated beneath the blanket of technology.

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Fear does a lot to a person. It hinders them from living. It tells you “no way” when you need to here “don’t stop”

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I ran into the bathroom and sobbed. My feet were firmly planted on the Denver International airport floor but my core was rocked. Through my blubbering mess, I called Tim to tell him.

Bethany, breathe. Breathe. I can’t understand you. What happened? He asked me in the middle of a work meeting.

Eventually, Jo texted me,  Where are you? We are all waiting at arrivals.

I got my self together. Enough so to not look like a hot mess looking as if i got mascara whiskers painted on me at a fair. I walked through the airport – the same airport that I flew out of the first time I ever went abroad 10 years earlier. The airport that represented so much freedom and opportunity. It was tainted.

I wish I could have held it together for my sweet nieces and nephew who greeted me with rays of innocence.

What’s happened to Aunt Boo? I heard them whisper in the most sincere tone that could only stem from the purity of youth. There I was, Aunt Boo, bawling her eyes out on her sister’s shoulder.

Shortly following the events of that flight, the first Malaysian Air went missing. For the remainder of that year,  crash after crash occurred. Every time I heard the news, the same emotions would erupt inside of me: all I would do is want to cry. Not because I knew what those victims went through. I had no idea.  I walked off of the plane. I still had my life. The amount of fear I felt that day would be, in my mind, only a fragment of the fear that those individual felt. And I cannot comprehend that. I can’t shake it. I don’t think I ever will.

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Get busy living or get busy dying. 

– Shawshank Redemption
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My feet were soaked. Pebbles of dirt evolved into mud squished between my toes. My grey Rainbow sandals completely discolored. I was almost home to that cold apartment.

That was a week ago.

Now, I sit here on the subway once again contemplating my only two options: to give up or keep going. One might think that my recent move to China would mean that I decided to keep going. The truth is, I have to take each flight step by step. With a whole lot of encouragement from my husband, prayers from my mom and rational statistics from my ex-Air Force pilot dad, I have flown on over twenty planes since. But each plane ride has been as if it was my first one since the incident.  Eventually time will bring about distant foggy memories of this. Gratefully, time will also bring about adventures and opportunities that are worth the plane ride.

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If I had given in to that fear, I would have missed out on the following this past year:

Three magical weeks with my sister exploring Britain, France, Poland and Sweden (a sister trip I don’t know if we will ever be able to do again); A summer work trip in conjunction with time with my older sister and her family in the Colorado mountains; Shooting a wedding and a little r&r in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, with my beau by my side; Flying to San Francisco so we could get our visas in our passport; And lastly, our recent life-changing trip to Shanghai.

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I could allow fear to forever determine my life. I have allowed it too. I allow it daily in my thought life. But with each passing day and with each new adventure, I am reminded of truth: fear, although traumatic and debilitating,  cannot be an excuse in this life to stop living.

I opened the door to my apartment knowing that perhaps tomorrow or the following week, I will have to remind myself of this truth again. And again. And again. But for now, I will choose to daydream of my next adventure.

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Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. 

-Mark Twain

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