On Flying

“I would never move to Denver because then I’d have to fly in and out of this airport every time,” declared Thomas last week as we taxied on the runway at Denver airport. He’s convinced that wind patterns over the mountains near Denver make every flight in or out of that airport extremely turbulent, and this flight had added an affirming data point.

Thomas hates flying in a way that I didn’t understand until some time into our marriage. We had already done a lot of air travel together by that time but he’s never been one to let others on to his emotions, much less anxieties. Over time, though, the subtle comments he’d make – an occasional “I hope this flight isn’t turbulent,” or “This one shouldn’t be too bad” – made me realize, Oh, he really doesn’t like flying. He even goes so far as to factor in the plane size (he knows every common plane model by heart) when booking flights because larger planes are less likely to be turbulent.

During this specific trip to Denver I happened to be in the middle of reading Ann Patchett’s essay collection “These Precious Days.”

In one of the essays she writes about her husband’s love of flying planes and how she’s had to reconcile her desire to support his hobby with her fear for his safety: “I understood he wasn’t interested in baking bread, that there would be no Scrabble or yoga in our future as a couple, but couldn’t there be a hobby in which death was not a likely outcome?”

She shares how her relationship to these emotions evolved: “Over time I learned to offer no resistance. “Pretty,” I would say when he showed me the picture [of a plane]. I didn’t want to be the reason he didn’t have a plane, the reason he was gripped by fits of misery specific to a man who wants to be in the sky and is stuck on the ground.”

But my favorite part of the story came towards the end when she talks about flying in the plane with Karl. “When I am in the plane with Karl [as the pilot],” she writes, “I read, I look out the window, I sleep an untroubled sleep, my head against the window.”

Which, to me, was another way of her saying, “I don’t get scared or nervous when he flies if I’m in the plane next to him…because whatever happens, happens to us together.”

Back on the runway at Denver airport, as we impatiently waited for the captain to turn off the seatbelt sign, I said to Thomas, “I feel like I finally understand how much you hate flying.”

“Well, yeah,” he said, as if I’d said something incredibly obvious, “why do you think I always want to take flights with you if I can?”

Now – Thomas is not an emotional person. (He would also be extremely annoyed to know I was writing this, and I told him if I was sharing anything that made him uncomfortable I’d stop. But he prefers to live in a state of blissful ignorance, aka one of not reading my blog, and so this is what he risks as a result.) And, as far as love languages go, he’s never been one for verbal expressions of love. So when he said, seemingly offhandedly, to me that he didn’t like taking separate flights (which sometimes happens for logistical reasons, or if he’s taking a trip I’m not going on), I heard, “You make me feel safe.”

I smiled to myself and made a mental note to write what he’d said down because love is not always shown with flowers (especially not if you’re T, who is tragically allergic to almost everything alive) or explicit “I love you”s. And while there are times I get frustrated that he doesn’t always share his love for me in the most conventional ways, I can never justifiably doubt its existence.

Even though I am not as fearful of planes as Thomas, or as afraid of my husband having flying as a hobby like Ann Patchett, I felt she captured how I feel when Thomas is around: “I read, I look out the window, I sleep an untroubled sleep.”



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2 responses to “On Flying”

  1.  Avatar

    As always, Mads, I really enjoyed reading this. Love, Dad

  2. […] Patchett’s These Precious Days.Another book that reinforced my year of reading more essays. I wrote a post inspired by one of the essays in particular, but each of them were […]

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