Flights into and out of Chicago last week were cancelled due to bad weather. I adjusted my plans by booking a later flight directly to Detroit. The winter weather was ominous. The temperature fluctuated from 43º in the late morning to 72º mid-afternoon. In the Midwest we know this as “tornado weather.” Sure enough, the skies suddenly blackened, winds bucked. Within minutes the temperature plummeted 30 degrees and tornado alerts began crawling across the TV. The evening flight was bound to be delayed and turbulent. I was an unsettled, agitated traveler who was in for a rough ride to the Motor City.
Most fliers, with the exception of my husband, detest turbulence, those sudden, violent movements encountered when the plane hits what pilots languidly describe with their Texan drawls as “a little bumpy patch of air.” White knuckled passengers can be divided into God fearing penitents and those who figure their number’s up or it isn’t and smugly chug the rest of their drinks before they’re spilled or evaporated. Nobody wearing a seat belt actually dies of commonplace turbulence because it simply doesn’t have the power to crash planes – it’s lot in life is to just terrify passengers into thinking they’re going down.
Turbulence is part of living whether you’ve ever flown or not. Sudden swirls and eddies in routines create great commotion and upset our emotional wellbeing. When relationships depart from the smooth flow of comfortable compatibility to an irregular fluctuation due to miscommunication, emotional unavailability or conflict we get agitated and can’t think of much else. Some people get into a sense of flow regarding the turbulence and focus their motivation on getting the relationship back on course and moving along as it had and should. Whether these relationships are work bound or personal, turbulence can unsettle the most stalwart among us. Like aircraft, we’re built to handle the turbulent flow of life.
Only about 20 out of 800 million US passengers (not counting the flight crews bustling down isles with those essential peanuts) are injured by turbulence in any given year. More people are hurt by emotional turbulence – worrying about things they can’t control, stress, grief, conflict – which prevents them from thinking about and acting on other good things in their lives. It’s estimated that as global warming continues, air turbulence will double – so the older we get the bumpier the ride is going to be. Life, like the wind and water is full of turbulence. Relationships with ourselves and others include regular incidences of turbulence. We’ve got to understand that just as wind turbulence doesn’t crash planes emotional turbulence shouldn’t kill us.
This weekend I heard the river flow. It was full of mini-icebergs jockeying in the turbulent current for position as they raced towards New Orleans. The air was filled with static that was similar to the sound of Ship to Shore or AM radios – agitated, confused, cold and ominous noise. I envisioned the terror of falling in – sinking into the frigid black depths, then bobbing to surface only to have my skull crushed by oncoming ice and being unable to hold on to any of the ice chunks – drowning. It was a scary sound, softer than the winds that blast ahead of a cold front, quieter than shuddering joints of an aircraft as it slams through the jet stream. It was the unsettling sound of nature on the move and the turbulent wind that sent me scuttling off the dock back into Palisades.
Once inside – safe and warm – the view of the ice flow was majestic. A pod of pelicans soared playfully on air currents above the ice flow as the setting sun reflected off pure white light from their feathers. A week ago the harbor was a solid block of ice and today it was disappointing to see the river’s ice-free current carrying trees and debris south. On my next flight, it will be good to remember how quickly icebergs disperse and that pilots are trained to handle rough spots. I’ll relax and think about where most of my life is spent – being in the smooth flow – comfortably in the groove.