The Voice of Calm

I call him “The Voice of Calm.”  I don’t know his name or where he is from.  I don’t know anything about his history or his family.  I don’t know his story.  But I know he helped me in a great way.

People will say he was just doing his job.  People will say he was only doing it because that is what he is paid to do.  But, I beg to differ.  Because so many people who have his exact job don’t do what he did.  That shows me that he cares.

About eight years ago I suddenly began experiencing a terrible fear of flying.  I’ve been flying in airplanes since my family moved to Indonesia when I was two years old.  I remember flying in prop planes into the jungles of Kalimantan.  For over thirty years I’ve been all over the world and it was the airplane that took me there.  Airplanes and I have become old friends.  Until I became absolutely terrified of them.

Which is kind of ironic considering I still love rollercoasters.  The difference being that the rollercoasters are supposed to do that bump and jerk and drop thing, commercial planes are not.

I worked through my fears over the years.  Just when I felt like I had gotten over most of my fears I would then get on an airplane that had extreme turbulence (the people screaming kind of turbulence).  Every. Single. Time.

However, I came to discover that my fear was not of the airplane, that giant tube of metal in the sky that’s somehow supposed to soar through the clouds.  Yes, I know all about aerodynamics, but this is one of those times that even science cannot calm me.  My faith had to come from something much bigger than mere science. Because you see, my fear was not from the airplane itself (or even from the stories of crashes and disasters that ended up in the frozen Andes mountains or Lost on an island somewhere).  My fear was from the acute realization that I was not in control.  I had absolutely no control over anything.  And for someone who likes control, craves control, this was detrimental to me.

I started realizing it was an issue more of control than the airplane.  Though, I will admit when I saw one particular airplane with duct tape on the wing- then it became about the airplane. 🙂  But as I was realizing that deep-seated anxiety over lack of control, I began to deal with those issues instead.  I also began relaxation techniques.  I began filling my mind with other things- like movies and books and a ton of sleep aid medication.

But, most of all- I began giving it to the One who is in ultimate control.  Whether I live or die, my life is in HIS hands.  And I pray for each person on that plane.  Suddenly that screaming baby is not looked at with annoyance anymore, but with compassion on his poor mother (and the poor screaming baby- who is scared or confused or maybe his ears hurt).  And that kid kicking the back of my chair for an hour, or that man next to me whose knees keep coming into my space (and with me at 5’11”, let’s face it, there’s no extra space over here), or that Chinese granny who insists on making me let her out into the aisle because she has to go to the bathroom every half hour even though the plane is going all over the place…Suddenly I find I am smiling despite myself. 🙂

Then the foreboding seatbelt sign turns on.  “Turbulence up ahead” it reads.  It gets really bad when the pilot tells the flight attendants that they, too, need to sit down and buckle up.  Bumpy doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Last December I was on one particularly bad flight, one of the worst I’ve ever been on in my 30 years of flying.  I was going through all the techniques.  I was practicing my breathing.  I was really trying to engross myself in this novel I was reading.  I prayed for everyone on board- twice.  I prayed that God would help me release my desire for complete control over my life and allow him to take the controls.  The plane was still bumping all over the place and at this point my water was all over my lap.  The man next to me was munching on peanuts reading a biography on Steve Jobs and I wanted to yell (in my complete giving-up-control-to-God and praying-for-everyone-on-board moment)- “how can you eat during a time like this!!?!?!”

Then “the Voice” came over the loudspeaker.  It was calm.  It was peaceful.  Even in the midst of all the turbulence around us, “the Voice of Calm” entered our reality.  It was like he was telling a story.  Talking to us as if we were taking a summer stroll along the lake with a picnic basket in tow.  In the middle of his talking to us the plane jerked violently and for about 10 seconds the Voice paused.   No voice inflection or increase in speed or saying stupid things like “it’s a bit bumpy, folks.”  He just picked up where he left off as if nothing had just happened.  He kept telling us it would be okay and that it would be over soon.  He was basically asking all 300 of us to trust him.  To trust his ability to take control.

We landed safely.  As is usually customary the flight attendant stands at the door as people exit telling everyone to have a good day.  Yeah, she says it to everybody, but sometimes I like to pretend she’s being nice to just me.  Occasionally the pilots will also stand outside the cockpit and wave everyone goodbye.  As I exited the plane on that day I came face to face with “The Voice of Calm.”  The pilot.  The one who got us safely home.  I could suddenly see the Man Behind the Curtain in the flesh, and he looked every bit the part.  I looked him in the eye, acknowledged him briefly, and simply said, “thank you.”  As I exited the plane I breathed normally for the first time in 3 hours and tears of joy were in my eyes.

Captain Pilot, I don’t know your name.  I only know that you pilot with Delta and that you flew one particularly hard flight in December 2011.  But I do thank you.  Thank you for being the voice of calm on that frightful day.  Thank you for helping me through my fear of flying in your own way.  Thanks for going above and beyond what is required of you and truly caring about the people in your care.  Thanks for allowing us to trust you to bring us safely home.

As I reflect on this story (soon to get on another flight in just a short while) I think about how our God is just like that pilot, that “Voice of Calm” in our turbulent times.  How he talks to us soothingly like a loving parent.  How he tells us it’s going to be okay.  And this God, our God, is readily accessible to each of us.  He’s simply asking us to trust Him…to bring us safely Home.

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