Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Audio Blog - Independence Day from 30,000 Feet

Happy Fourth of July, folks. I hope you're enjoying a relaxing day and plan to grill some good food.

Today I'm bringing you a timely audio blog to mark the occasion. Some of you already know that I don't particularly like fireworks. Many probably don't know how deep my anxiety runs. In today's audio blog, I open up about the causes of my fear and how I've been able to cope. I hope you enjoy it.

If you'd like, you can read along...
I have never – since I was a kid until now – I have never liked fireworks.

Ever since I was a little kid, fireworks have terrorized me. Which is why I never understood why fireworks always made their way into my birthday celebrations. I understand that only four days separate my birthday and July 4th so the two events are bound to have some overlap. So when I was a kid, I expected the menu to include grilling hot dogs and hamburgers and I assumed the decorations would be red, white and blue.

But what I didn’t appreciate was what happened once the sun began to set.

My parents would bring out box after box of firecrackers, bottle rockets and other incendiary devices. All the kids clamored for a sparkler to hold and begged for the honor of lighting the first firecracker.

Though I never asked for one, I always ended up with a sparkler. I feigned enjoyment while my anxiety increased as the spark inched closer and closer to my hand.

Though I was just a kid, I was always the one concerned about fire safety. I wanted to be sure there was a water source nearby and that only adults were handling the larger rockets.

Now that I’m older, I’m still just as cautious about fireworks and try to avoid them as much as possible.

And as if my childhood trauma wasn’t enough, a new layer has since been added to my phobia of fireworks.

March 22nd, 2003. Baghdad. The first in the series of shock and awe campaigns shake up the desert of Iraq. The images are beamed across the world right to my living room via our television set. Those images made an impact on the 15-year-old me. After that day, I equated whistles and booms and crashing noises with death and destruction. And when the Fourth rolled around, I still couldn’t separate the sights and sounds of Independence Day with the bombing of Iraq and the concept of war in general.

Years later, I still cringe in the presence of fireworks. If I’m not careful, my anxiety can flare up and I momentarily stop breathing. It sounds scary but I can usually manage it pretty well. Still, it’s wise for me to avoid fireworks if I can.

But invariably, every summer I have to deal with the fact that people plan to celebrate their freedom by setting off the biggest, loudest, brightest fireworks they can find. And despite any official restrictions or bans, the evening of July 4th will always sound like a war zone in my mind.

There has been one exception. Last year. July 4th. That year I celebrated Independence Day from the comfort of a jet plane cruising at an altitude of 30,000 feet.

At first, I wasn’t sure what to expect when my flight from Albuquerque to Oklahoma City was scheduled for July 4th. Would I still hear the sonic booms or see the explosions in the sky? I figured I could always close the window on the plane and plug in a pair of headphones if things got out of hand.

But as we took off from the runway and headed off into the night sky, I peered out the side of the plane to see the ground covered in tiny lights. At first, I couldn’t tell if they were just street lamps or houses but the twinkling the lights produced told me these were, in fact, household fireworks going off in backyards and neighborhood streets. Occasionally, we would pass a larger display of fireworks blooming in the sky with cascading colors of light. Try as they might, the explosions only reached so high in the air.

Up in the air at this height, I felt secure. I knew I was safe from harm. It was the altitude that gave me this new perspective on what would have terrified me from the ground.

And I learned this: Fear is a matter of perspective.

From 30,000 feet in the air, I was high above the perceived danger. And that’s exactly what it was: just perceived danger, not an actual threat.

It can still get a little unnerving when I hear the loud booms and flashes of light, but now I try to view it from the frame of that tiny airplane window. And it suddenly seems a little more manageable.


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