Fear, In a Manner of Speaking

I am neither an adventurer nor a traveler. I like things that are secure, that you can take for granted. But that is not life, which is why we need to take some chances.

My first experience flying is just a blurred image that I cannot recall from ten years ago. I am afraid of traveling, but it is not fear. It is something else, a kind of “phobia”: whenever I go outside my “safety area” I start feeling sick—I sweat a lot and I get very nervous—but I go ahead with what I have to do. I face things or better yet, I think I face things. And flying is one of those issues that I need face. 

I was invited to participate in a summer school in Glasgow this year to teach cinema. So therefore, I had to fly from Lisbon, Portugal, to Glasgow with a stopover in London, since there were no direct flights. Our flights lasted about four hours in total. It was not too long, but I was very nervous the days prior to the departure. It is, of course, nonsense to be afraid because it is a well-known fact that the plane is the safest means of transportation in the world.

Nonetheless, we are corrupted with images of plane crashes, of National Geographic documentaries about plane disasters or, more recently, of planes being hijacked. I know security is tight and that everything usually runs smoothly, but when you grow up with a paranoid mom like mine, you start thinking about all the disaster scenarios. Even airlines admit to the possibilities: Before taking off there is always the drill of explaining what to do in case of an accident. How can we not be scared?

On my recent flights, I was amazed by the number of people who were completely relaxed, just sitting and waiting for us take off. Some of them, especially on the London-Glasgow flight, sat there breezing through novels. Then again, I also usually read on bus trips from Lisbon to my parent’s house in the Alentejo, which also take almost three hours. Like those people on the plane, I too take my regular trip for granted.

On the trip to Glasgow, I traveled with my girlfriend who was also teaching at the summer school; I probably would not have gone without her. She is an experienced traveler, especially internationally for conferences. In my opinion, she is very brave, but so was I. I never expressed how nervous I was, except when taking off and landing. I could not help it: I was sweating, felt like I was losing all the circulation in my legs, and was unable to move until the plane reached cruising altitude. As for the remainder of the trip, I registered all the details on the flights: altitude, pressure, how many kilometers left to arrival, where we were, etc. While my girlfriend sat there relaxed, I absorbed the experience through and through, alternating between impatience about not getting to our destination quicker, general boredom, and strange disappointment that no memorable events occured in-flight.

In retrospect, this was my first true experience flying. The first time didn't count, so to speak, since I only began feeling scared of trips, planes, etc., some years after my first flight. I am still trying to discover the origin of my problem with travel. I know I am a slow learner and that I need to my take time to travel because I tend to stick with what is familiar to me; however, I know that not everything can be experienced in books or on the web. I also know that the next time I travel, I will count down the days for the departure months in advance: I’ll go online to check the map of the country and the images of the city, and I will speak with my friends about it for hours and hours. And though they too will suffer, they know it helps me.

But with some suffering comes rewards, too. Had I not traveled outside of Lisbon and my comfort zone, I would not have experienced one special moment. On that long stopover in London, my girlfriend and I were able to meet up with a friend of ours at the airport. He mentioned he had some news. After some sightseeing with him and his girlfriend, they broke the news that not only were they getting married, but that they were also expecting their first child. I know he could have sent me an email or have called with the news, but it would not have been the same thing. I got to see the happiness in his eyes and he got to see how happy I was for him; it was a genuinely important experience for me. That was, in effect, life as it happens.


José Duarte has a degree in Modern LanguagesEnglish Studies (FLUL) and an MA in North American Studies (FLUL) with a thesis on the TV series Six Feet Under. He is a researcher at ULICES (University of Lisbon Centre for English Studies), is currently working on his PhD (with a scholarship from FCT) about American cinema, and teaches at the University of Lisbon.
Categories: Airplanes, Trips

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