Thursday, October 25, 2007


I am not a patient person. I'm efficient and competent at most things, but I'm really bad at cutting slack to people who aren't. Situations and machines that don't deliver as promised also make me crazy. Delinquent (or nonexistent) replies to email, incompetent drivers, having to follow up all the time even with businesses I'm paying for a service, tablemates who play blackjack ultra-slowly, the satellite or the Internet being "out," the complete inability of a book distributor to get anything right on the first try - it takes a conscious act of will to quell the swell of impatience these irritants provoke in me, and I don't even like to think about all the time and effort I've spent doing just that so as to contain tirades and maintain the outwardly even keel necessary to being considered a sane person.

As I fought back today's driver-induced red haze of impatience, though, it occurred to me that where air travel is concerned, I effortlessly maintain an unruffled serenity not usually seen without pharmaceutical aid. There is little in daily life more irritating than flying - from getting to the airport, to the person behind you in the security line who has to keep running into your rolling carry-on or, if you're traveling light, your feet, and the person in front of you whose laptop is buried at the bottom of the hugest possible carry-on and whose shoes seem to have a highly complicated removal mechanism, to hurrying up and waiting, to being sandwiched into airplanes designed in the apparent belief that Americans are getting thinner rather than fatter, to the terrible grammar in the standard announcements, etc., etc., etc. Traveling by air should by all rights make someone like me fit for a straightjacket. But it doesn't bother me a bit. I don't tell myself in advance to take it easy and remain calm. I don't seem to be in charge of my state of mind at all. An imperturbable placidity just settles over me from the moment I get up on a traveling day.

For a brief period in the 80s, I was afraid of flying. I could do it, I could even carry on a conversation if I was with someone else, but I spent the entire time preparing to die. It wasn't a fear of dying so much as a disinclination to die stupidly. My fear was of a mechanical origin: I figured the people who flew and maintained airplanes were probably as un-diligent as the people who did everything else. (And stories like this one made me sure I was right.) Years later, I read an article that said a lot of women in their early 30s with small kids experience fear of flying. The article suggested that the reason was control-related. Young mothers struggle so hard to control their complex lives that being in a position of utter lack of control is horrific to them. Maybe that's what was up with me. In any event, my fear went away after a few years. I realized a couple days in advance of some business trip that I wasn't apprehensive at all and I've been a calm flyer ever since.

I suspect I just gave up on the notion of being able to control anything, aviationally speaking. There's no percentage in resenting the lines, the fellow travelers, the silly security requirements, even the mis-tagged luggage. There's no percentage in doing anything but smiling sweetly and saying "Sure, no problem" when they ask if they can search your bag. There's no percentage in getting worked up over delays. I think I learned at some entirely unconscious level that I have no control whatsoever over the flying experience and the best way to deal with it is to relax and go utterly with the flow. It's not hard to extrapolate that lesson to other impatience triggers, but i
t's not a lesson I seem to be able to apply intentionally. As much as I enjoy my aeronautical tranquility, I'm apparently not willing to cede all control in the rest of my life.

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