Most people are afraid of something - common phobias like heights or spiders or being in darkness are what immediately come to mind. But things like that don't really get to me; I can handle most sensations and situations that are often thought of as uncomfortable. Even though I might describe myself as an anxious person from time to time, I realized one day that when it really came down to actually having to face scary stuff, I could do it with bravery, without a second thought.
But I am perhaps irrationally afraid of one thing: airplane turbulence.
I love flying. I even love the atmosphere of a bustling, busy airport. But I hate the announcement that comes on when heading straight toward a jet stream or storm. I hate knowing that there's no way to escape that feeling of certain death, though I logically know it almost never correlates to such a fate. I'm trapped inside this tiny vehicle with a hundred strangers or more, and it wouldn't be socially acceptable to panic, so instead I'll grip the arms of the chair, hold my head back tightly into the seat, close my eyes, and try not to. It never gets easier. I could fly every day and I'm not convinced I'll ever get more comfortable with that kind of instability.
The worst case of turbulence I've experienced was at the dead of night, just over the International Date Line on a long flight back to Los Angeles from Auckland, New Zealand. It was really my first time travelling by plane for such long hours, and no one I knew well was on the flight with me - just some new friends made on a volunteer program trip we were returning from. I remember the announcement, and how immediately it began; how I wasn't sure if I felt the urge to scream, cry, vomit, or all three. It was so bad I nearly clutched the thigh of the guy sitting to my left - one of the fellow volunteers I didn't even like. Anything for some solace. Anything to make it stop.
Just as I had reached my capacity to remain "calm" before full panic and dread took over, I noticed one thing that stopped me in my tracks: the flight attendants were not afraid. Though they sat in their safety positions waiting it out, they monitored the area and looked around, at each other, with an almost sleepy sense of non-emotion. They were fine. This was normal. We were all going to be okay.
And as I now sit here, safe on the ground, and reflect on this past year, I am oddly reminded of this experience. Turbulence is present in an entirely different sense than it was in the sky that night seven years ago. It shows itself as we are all being asked to collectively navigate several wars on vulnerable populations, climate disaster, overconsumption (see my last post), a mass mental health crisis, a mass media literacy crisis, and damaging polarization, all together and all at the same time. It's fucking rough out there. It's a juncture that demands not just our attention, but collective introspection and decisive action. I suppose the question is, is there any option to respond like those flight attendants and ride out the storm? Are we actually going to be okay?
It feels as though the majority of my work this year has aimed to reconcile some really hard truths about being a human alive on this planet today - the short story is that it's really hard, and really scary. The simplest truth is that our world is just not fair. People in power are too greedy, we as humans are intelligent and inventive to a fault, and because of this, we've destroyed a lot of what made our collective home a nurturing, peaceful place to be. I wrote "Compassion fatigue" at the beginning of 2023 to try to offer advice on what to remember when it all becomes too much (at that time, the latest horrific news in the US was the chemical leak from the train in Ohio). In March, I investigated the severe problems I had being seeing in my workplace with students literally incapable of paying attention to anything other than social media or videogames for longer than five minutes, and why they feel this insatiable desire for escape. The next month, I offered a potentially new solution for imploring more people to actually do something about the environmental crisis, and that's feeling in order to heal. Many of my podcast episodes have explored the tendency for doomscrolling, treating our bodies as trends, understanding the connection between gratitude and guilt, and of course, how we can possibly begin to restore Mother Earth when our politicans and world leaders refuse to.
It's probably way too much for one person to consider all the time, and it's certainly more than one person can take on alone. But I remain immensely fascinated by the human capacity for hope. I know we don't all have it right now, and it often feels as though it's dwindling from us faster than we can watch as it goes. But I also know that somehow, I still wake up every day with things to be so grateful for and excited about. I feel love and connection everywhere I go. I still believe that people are good at their core. And I still believe that our story, as a collective, can be one of bravery, healing, and growth.
If you don't, I want you to know that that feeling is completely valid and okay - especially right now, as the horrors of the entire world's population are more accessible and available and pushed onto our home screens than they ever have been. But as you sit with this, I also invite you to wonder if we could use this accessability as a net-positive. We are not meant to know about and care for every single problem facing the human population and beyond, but having that ability grants us more opportunity to actually do something about it. And of course, that still doesn't mean we have to do it all - that is an ability we will never possess. No; instead, we identify our strengths and our gifts, and we apply them where we can. The individual may not be able to change much about any of the larger problems we face, but if we all practiced using our skills and gifts when and where we can, it's simply no longer an individual effort.
A blueprint for restoring our faith in humanity is certainly not a solitary endeavor; it requires a global commitment. Education, sustainable policies, and grassroots initiatives must intertwine to forge a path forward. So decide where you fit best and use your humanity for good.
Here's the kicker: when you know where that place is, recognize that you are genuinely doing all that you can. You are doing your best for your local community and perhaps beyond. You are fostering a better world, where people care for one another and show kindness, because you are a living example of what that process looks like. We are in a critical time, no doubt: It's a wake-up call like no other. It demands a response that transcends borders and ideologies. By addressing the root causes of our challenges, fostering empathy, and committing to sustainable practices in community and environment - treating the Earth as we treat one another - we can navigate the rough skies and emerge on the other side with a renewed sense of purpose and unity. The journey toward restoration begins with each individual, each community, holding onto hope and one another. Rehumanizing, reintegrating with genuine kindness.
I believe one last key to this process is surrendering. Not to a fate of endless struggle until the final moment, but rather to an inner knowing that being "okay" is subjective. Maybe right now you are just simply existing, and maybe that is okay. Maybe you are experiencing the happiest days of your life while there is a genocide occuring on the other side of the world, and maybe that is also okay. Perhaps you are not safe, not able to provide for anyone else, and are simply trying to survive. And that is okay too.
Wherever you are in the mess - however scary the skies - I hope that you are holding on. The acknowledgement of turbulence insinuates an end to it, too. May we trust that it's coming, and in the meantime, may we prioritize looking on each other with eyes that promise peace.