Recently I went on a vacation. Something I don’t do at all, really.
Caitlin and I decided to fly south. Way south. Like Argentina south — Buenos Aires to be exact.
I used to travel a lot. I’ve made my way around Asia, Europe, and the US pretty extensively.
However, somewhere along the way I developed a fear of flight. A very very real fear.
At least, that’s how I perceived it be at the time.
This from a guy who once flew direct from Chicago to Seoul like it was nothing. I somehow got to the point where the very mention of flying was met with an immediate outpouring of sweat. Then again, a lot of things trigger that same reaction with me.
Just minutes after booking the flight I was completely paralyzed with fear.
It was also the same week as the Germanwings crash into the Alps, and the “hard landing” in Halifax, Nova Scotia — just one province to the west of me.
Flying fat is no fun.
As a skinny person you no doubt know what it’s like to be sitting there in your comfy window seat, when all of a sudden comes this giant of a human to plop themselves down in the middle of the row.
It’s pretty much the worst thing ever for you, I’m sure.
Well, for me, a big guy — as I make my way down the aisle of a plane I can see people clutching their rosaries.
“Please, sweet Jesus, not here. Not in 21b.”
And when I finally hit the place where I’m to be seated, the look of disappointment I’m met with (not all, but many times) is enough to cut your heart out.
Most of my time on airplanes is spent trying to makes myself small.
Which, when you’re over 300 pounds and 6’3” — well, it’s impossible. And think, I’m close to a hundred pounds smaller than what I was. I must have been a walking night terror to skinny people on planes everywhere.
Godzilla flies coach.
So once you’ve had all of your dignity chipped away by the knowing glances of the “victim” you have to sit next to, then comes the real kick in the pants.
There’s a little thing called “the extender”.
And it’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s an extension to the seatbelt.
And they don’t come in the overhead compartment, or the seat back in front of you. You have to ring the little bell and have the flight attendant bring you one.
In all of my experiences of asking for these little shamebelts the transaction usually involved the attendant rolling up the belt, palming it, and handing it to you behind their backs as they walked by like they were dropping off a dime bag of heroin —which, you know, I kind of appreciate and hate all at the same time.
At this point the person that’s penned into the window seat is judging you so hard you can feel it. Usually I make some sort of crack that degrades myself as a human being.
Y’know, just so everyone’s comfy.
This flight to South America was the first time in a long time that I’ve not had to use the extender. Please, no need for applause. That’s not why I’m mentioning it.
The point is, I got to watch other people ask for them and see the ritual for myself from the outside.
One by one, I’d watch other overweight people claim their seats. One guy on a flight from Houston to New Jersey actually said, “I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking ‘here comes the fatty’. Don’t worry”, he said “I can fold out of the way easily enough”.
Once I got back home I began to think about my fear of flight a little deeper.
Was it actually the fear of crashing into the Andes?
Or was it something else?
Was it the fear of allowing myself to live? To experience what it’s like to completely let go and have fun.
The shame that reverberates from a statement like “I can fold out of the way” hit me like a tonne of bricks.
Nobody should feel like that. Ever.
Everyone should have the opportunity to take life by the back of the fucking head and suck every goddamn drop of living out of it.
Which is what I did in Argentina.
I rode a fucking horse.
The guy who just over a year and a half ago was sitting in his basement mucking about in a sea of fast food boxes and guilt was horseback riding.
It’s something that I’ll never forget.
To those people who constantly feel like they are in the way — you fucking aren’t.
You are the way.
You are a part of this. Just as much as some snotty — yet well-intentioned — flight attendant who is trying to save face for you by sneaking you an extender.
Being afraid to fly is one thing.
But don’t be afraid to live.
There are lots of horses out there just waiting to prop you up.
All you have to do is get in the saddle and ride.