|Alaska. I can't quite remember if I cried on this flight. Maybe not. I was with a good friend.|
The first time I cried on a plane was also my very first flight. My grandmother had a heart attack and lay dying in a hospital in Dubuque, Iowa. I had been on a road trip with an aunt and uncle and when we got the news, the aunt I was traveling with, the aunt we were visiting in Baltimore, and I flew back to Iowa while my two uncles drove the camper through the night and met us there. I was 14 and saved, for maybe a a decade, the individual salt and pepper shakers and the stir stick I'd gotten with the Shirley Temple I'd gulped while swallowing my grief. Whenever I ran across these things in a drawer full of keepsakes they made me sad all over again.
The next time I flew was when my grandfather died. He had a heart attack--and died according to my mother's account--before he hit the floor. By this time I was a freshman in college and hurriedly made the 350-mile trip home, not sure how to negotiate the travel arrangements, thereby arriving at the airport completely rattled. I remember crying openly on this flight, any effort to swallow the tears impossible.
My father died the next year, and I flew home suddenly once again. There had been a few flights to visit a boyfriend in between, but those trips were emotional minefields too since we'd given up our son for adoption just weeks before we started college. Airplane trips and crying were one and the same to me back then.
Things changed when I flew to France my junior year of college for a semester abroad. Flying was for fun and adventure, but I think I remember laughing so hard that I cried. In the ensuing years of marriage and children, there were more flights that fell into the category of mostly fun, but the motherhood years were when the flying anxiety began in ernest. More crying on airplanes.
With my aunt and my mom aging on the east coast, there were even more reasons to cry on planes. The break-up of my marriage was the watershed (pun intended.) I not only cried copiously on every flight I took anywhere--but I cried while telling my seat mate why I was crying. I have cried--or felt like crying-- for one reason or another on almost every flight I've ever taken.
My flying anxiety is somewhat less these days--but today I found myself crying on a plane once again. Traveling to the Twin Cities to meet my friend Carol who has been on a road trip since May 1 in her 45 ft. RV, I wanted to bring her a gift and found the perfect book: My Life On the Road by Gloria Steinem. I thought I might page through it a bit on the flight. The dedication and the epigraph brought tears to my eyes, and I settled in to read the book, crying over something in nearly every chapter. A history of feminism, told through the lens of Steinem's travels, reading it now when we are on the cusp of electing our first woman president during this era of burgeoning hate and prejudice, is an emotional experience. I'm half-way through the book and wonder what it will be like finishing it on the ground.
Crying on planes, it turns out, is a thing.
You can read about it: ATLANTIC BUSTLE
And you can listen to THIS AMERICAN LIFE episode.
People cry on planes.