I thought I was going to die this summer.
I was flying from New York to Chicago – a routine flight that I’ve taken about a hundred times over the past eight years. I fly more often than the average human, and as it becomes more routine, the fear that used to send vibrations of anxiety through my veins has been replaced by the ability to nap in any position.
I’ve flown through my fair share of storms, horrific turbulence and failed attempts to land. But that was nothing compared to the storm I was about to fly through.
Our flight was already very delayed because of a storm in Chicago. The airline made the call to try and get us in that night. The storm was patchy, and everything pointed towards us being able to sneak through for a landing.
I’ve flown through lightning storms. I prefer not to, but I don’t panic when it happens. It’s actually pretty cool. Typically, the lightning is far enough away for you to feel at ease, and instead of worrying, you can enjoy the view.
That wasn’t the case that night. We flew directly through the lightning, which is actually one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever witnessed. Looking out the window, all I could see were particles of clouds and flashes of light. It was like being in an igloo and having someone flicker the lights outside every now and again (totally relatable simile, right?) It was exhilarating, terrifying, and luckily – short lived. We made it through the clouds to the eye of the storm, where we circled around for a bit. Everyone was at peace being able to watch the lightning from afar instead of flying through it.
We circled around, surrounded by the storm, for a bit – looking for a clear enough patch to land in. We were surrounded by clouds with lightning bolts zipping out from the bottom of them and could watch the path they takes to the ground. It was beautiful, fascinating and distant enough to feel at ease, knowing they couldn’t possibly strike our plane.
The ease lasted for about an hour, circling inside the storm, until the pilot announced that we ran out of fuel and would have to land in Milwaukee (don’t we always run out of fuel in these situations?). To land in Milwaukee meant that we would have to fly through the storm again so that we could be above it to take off to Milwaukee.
I was terrified. Flying through the storm was terrifying. You’re completely out of control – you can’t even see out of the window. The ease and exhilaration that I felt after flying through it the first time escaped my body upon realizing we had to go through it again. Maybe we wouldn’t be so lucky. Maybe we would get hit by lightning. It was an awful storm, and it felt inevitable that something would go wrong.
As we started flying through the storm again, I genuinely thought we were going to die. That I was going to die. For the first time in my life, I really believed that I wouldn’t make it to the ground.
As someone who suffers from panic attacks, I’m very in tune with my body and can feel them coming. I combat them by deep breaths and listening to Pink’s music as loud as possible. As I did this, we flew through the storm and I closed my eyes as tight as possible.
Then I realized something. I have no control over my destiny. None. There is absolutely nothing I can do to help this situation. My life is tens of thousands of feet above the ground and I can’t control whether or not it’ll be put back on solid ground. While it may sound terrifying, it put me at ease. My worrying does nothing to help this situation. So why am I going to worry?
Instead I purchased Southwest’s WiFi. I figured if things really looked bad, I could iMessage my family something thought provoking for them to remember me by. “I’ve lived a good life, don’t worry. I love you. Play a lot of Pink at my funeral. Make it an Irish funeral – at a bar, not church. A party, not a sad event. Like in P.S. I Love You. Do whatever you want with my body – just don’t bury it.”
I have to have some control.
Then I just looked outside and enjoyed the view. I thought about my life. It’s funny what memories pop up when you’re convinced they’re your last. The first memory that came for me was when my mom and I went to SNL. Specifically when Amy Poehler walked past us after her cold opening and said “Thank you for coming” with this face of pure exhilaration that only comes with live performances. My mom and I were both together and happy for the first time since my dad died and I knew that we were going to live on without him. I thought of my mom, my dad, my sister & brother, nephew. My entire family and the tribe that became my family. About hanging outside of the storefront theater on closing night of my most recent show with the people I loved, about my childhood best friend putting makeup on me before our first middle school dance and making me look like a hooker, about sleepovers before regional cheerleading competitions.
I realized my life was amazing and full. I looked outside to see we were no longer flying through the storm, but above it. Right next to my face was a pure view of the moon and big dipper, with the clouds and lightening below. It was so beautiful and magical that I started crying. (Side note: there are few things that I love as much as I love stars.) I felt like I was in space, and I realized that this wouldn’t be the worst way to die. Free-falling with the big dipper and moon right next to my face.
Then I died. But luckily there’s wifi in space (where I like to think we go after death).
JK. I lived. But my life is very different now. It feels warmer, full.
I think everyone should have the chance to think that they’re going to die, and then survive, at least once. Bonus points if it happens in space.
The things I want are not as important as the things I already have. I have an inflated appreciation of the (almost) 25 years that I’ve lived.
And most of all, I know that I’m not in control any of it.