9.44 Turbulence

Routine business plane trip. A trip I’ve done many times before. Straight shot, no connections. Get on at my end, get off and get to work on the other.

I’ve been on my share of planes, so during the safety announcements, it didn’t alarm or surprise me when they included the cheery warning - at some point we might experience turbulence. Like, we’re flying through the air in what amounts to - when taken into consideration the larger scheme of things - a tin can. To me, turbulence is pretty much a given, rather than the exception.

The length of this trip is perfect to watch exactly one two hour movie. Anymore then that, and you’re going to miss the end. So, I picked a movie where it didn’t really matter if I saw the ending. I could probably guess at an ending and bet my life savings on it.

I chose the latest instalment of the Mission: Impossible franchise. Fallout or Black Ops or Rogue-something - did it really matter? For all of his weirdness - Scientology, couches, etc. - I could still watch Tom Cruise be a spy and get in trouble and get out of trouble and beat up some people.

In this movie, Cruise started chasing a bad dude and one of his team members asked him, “How’re you going to catch him?” To which, he answered, “I don’t know, I’ll figure something out.” Although I appreciated the tough guy of the movie admitting he didn’t know what he was doing, I felt it related more to the actual script. I didn’t really know what was going on, but it didn’t really seem to matter. The bad actor from Superman showed up at some point, a woman from a previous movie (couldn’t remember which) appeared, as did his wife, er… or his ex-wife. It felt like ol’Tommy Boy was really just making it up as he went along.


Just as Tom Cruise and Bad Superman jumped out of an airplane into a thunder storm, we got an announcement that we should expect some turbulence. Two people were walking down the aisle when we got another announcement asking us to return to our seats.

She didn’t finish the sentence.

The plane violently rocked from side to side. The two people in the aisle fell into the lap of a couple of seated passengers. They got up and rushed to their seats. I’ve flown to some pretty remote places through some pretty extreme weather. I had never experienced turbulence like this before. The plane seemed to drop, the seatbelt cutting into my hips. I kept calm, my brain hadn’t caught up to what was happening yet. In the meantime, the plane shook sideways and I hit my head on the edge of the window.

The dude that jumped with Tom Cruise just got struck by lightning in midair. Maybe I should turn this movie off? None of this could end well. I couldn’t even reach the button to pause the movie - the plane shook too much. I heard something, the screeching of metal maybe? I was reminded of another movie - the part in Fight Club where Edward Norton imagines a midair collision with another plane and he watched as the other passengers got sucked out of a hole torn in the side.

That’s not what’s happening here. Right?

I grabbed the arm rest. Like I said, I rarely got nervous on a plane. This was something else. It shook my body to its core. Just as quickly as the turbulence started, it stopped. My body vibrated. I didn’t think I was going to die, I figured that it’d be okay, deep down.

Something else though.

I half-watched as Tom Cruise, trying to stop a nuclear bomb from going off - two actually - said, “I don’t know, I’ll figure something out.” He said this after climbing up a rope on a moving helicopter and taking control over it in order to pursue another helicopter with the bad dude in it. It barely registered that he figured out how to fly the helicopter in about 30 seconds - the bombs were on timers after all. I mean, who has time to properly learn how to be a pilot?

Something else though. Like a reset, it snapped into place.

So, look, I’m not going to tell you what’s been going on. Not yet, maybe not ever. Yes, I’m trying to be a writer where I talk about personal things for entertainment purposes, or at least putting things into an amusing context. I’ve come to learn that there are some things you gotta play close to your chest. At least until I can understand them better, put them into context for myself. In order for it to be useful to other people, which I aspire to with my writing, I’d rather hold back on some things instead of it being a one-sided therapy session that turns into a too much information confession session.

Good, that’s out of the way. Something recently happened that shook me to my core - enough said for now. What I’ll say is this: It felt like I was a ghost haunting my own life, creeping around my apartment, occasionally bumping into things. See-through. I lost a sense of myself, my identity, and my general direction in life. I was sleepwalking - getting things done that needed to be done, functioning at a base level, interacting with people, paying bills, and so on, but not really engaged with anything or anyone at a deeper or meaningful level.

Along with the turbulence, I noticed something else. Once I turned my phone on to airplane mode, I didn’t look at it once during the next four hours. Part of the stress from the above stuff was communicated through my phone, which resulted in me relentlessly checking it. A notification from my phone started causing my heart to skip a beat or two. Being in the air, completely unable to worry about anything coming through my phone - my shoulders dropped, I didn’t feel that usual strain in my neck. This isn’t some commentary about how we are all addicted to our phones - we are - however, it’s more about how my personal source of stress manifested itself in these little computers we carry around everywhere.

The turbulence jolted me to my core. It was like my body and spirit were not aligned before, they were travelling in parallel, but unable to connect to each other. As the plane rocked back and forth, my spirit seemed to get pulled back into my body, and instantly re-connected to my physical self. My eyes snapped wide open, not from fear that we were going to die, but almost like I was electrocuted. The re-connection shocking me back and resetting the energy all the way down to my fingertips and toes. For the rest of the trip, I just sat there looking out the window, my body relaxing in the middle of the sky as the chaotic weather jerked the plane from side to side and upwards and downwards.

When I got off the plane at my destination, I felt a new sense of calm. I’m a big fan of Queen, and since the movie came out, I’ve been listening to the band non-stop. As I passed a luggage store in the terminal, my favourite song of theirs - I Want to Break Free - blasted from the overhead speakers. And with this, after the turbulence and letting go of the stress, the world seemed aligned again.

The trip was a success and on my way home, I was at the back of the plane. It was perfect because no one was sitting beside me. At the halfway mark, we hit some turbulence again. I watched out the window as we were overtaken with dark clouds, the wings slightly shaking. The light at the end of the wing started blinking, which I assumed was some type of warning issued when visibility lessened. It wasn’t the same level of turbulence as the trip down, but turbulence nonetheless. A strange thing happened, I felt back to myself again, no Fight Club flashes, my heart was calm and I held my hand out in front of me - completely still.

Looking out the small window of the plane, I happened to have one of Anthony Bourdain’s earlier books on my lap and had just read this passage, which summed things up pretty well:

I am the luckiest son of a bitch in the world, I thought, contentedly staring out at all that silence and stillness, feeling, for the first time in a while, able to relax, to draw a breath unencumbered by scheming and calculating and worrying. I was happy just sitting there enjoying all that harsh and beautiful space. I felt comfortable in my skin, reassured that the world was indeed a big and marvelous place.
— Anthony Bourdain
Paul Dore