Sandra M. Levy-Achtemeier, Ph.D.

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The Unpleasantness of Flying and the Pleasure of Travel

Published on Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Unpleasantness of Flying and the Pleasure of Travel

(A Visit with my Son)

This past Friday, I flew through Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale on a Delta flight out of Richmond. Now those of you who know me well know that I hate to fly! I have always hated flying. Not only is the food inedible and the space cramped, but since I do not understand how these things stay up and because I’m a control freak, I always ... shall we say ... expect the worst.

And of course this flight out of Richmond was shortly after the United debacle of a week or so back – the specter of the Chinese physician being dragged down the aisle because he wouldn’t voluntarily give up his seat to an overbooked crew member. And just yesterday there was a melee filmed at the Fort Lauderdale airport as a result of a pilot slowdown on Spirit Airlines, with a fistfight breaking out between overwrought passengers on canceled flights. So it goes on and on.

Anyway, my flight to Florida and back went smoothly, even though eastern Virginia was under a tornado warning shortly before takeoff. All of this brought to mind a hilarious chapter by Anne Lamott in her book Small Victories entitled “Knocking on Heaven’s Door.” She says “my idea of everything going smoothly on an airplane is (a) that I not die in a slow-motion fiery crash or get stabbed to death by terrorists, and (b) that none of the other passengers try to talk to me. All conversation should end at the moment the wheels leave the ground.” (p. 189)

Like a flight of mine from hell that I described in a past blog, Anne reports the pilot coming on the PA system, barking, “Everyone take your seat ... we are in for some rough going.” She continues: “The plane rose and fell and shook, and the pilot came back on and said sternly, like an angry dad, ‘Flight attendants, sit down now!’ The plane hit huge waves and currents on the choppy sea of sky, and we bounced and moaned and gasped. ‘Whhhoooooaaaa!’ everybody exclaimed as one, as though we were on a roller coaster ride. We’re going down, I thought. I know that a basic tenet of the Christian faith is that death is really just a major change of address, but I had to close my eyes to squinch back tears of terror and loss.” (pp. 193-4) And as she prayed, her main fear of loss was never seeing her son, Sam, again.

Well, Lamott's plane finally leveled out and they all made it down fine ... just like mine did from California in 2016. But still: I do hate to fly.

Turning from unpleasantness to the pleasure of travel: The reason I flew to Florida was to spend a long weekend with my oldest son, Brian. He had just moved into his new condo in Boca Raton. It was a fantastically beautiful weekend weather-wise (although a little chilly on Saturday), and the photo gallery here really says it all. The lead photo is, of course, one of the area's welcome signs. I stayed at a lovely hotel, and one great discovery we had was that the hotel supplies “free” glasses of champagne in the lobby from 4:30 to 6 p.m. daily! The next photos (see below) show views of the deck and ocean as we sat and sipped our way into our evenings.

One major highlight of the trip was that we could celebrate Mother’s Day a week early! The next two photos show my card and a gift bag that contained ... you guessed it ... a gift bottle of champagne! (My son doesn’t drink much, but he does like an occasional glass of champagne with his mom!)

Lest you think that we spent the entire weekend sipping champagne, the rest of the photos display shots from a Saturday outing to a farmers' market with Brian looking over their wares, scenic views taken during area strolls, a beach view from an outdoor patio during a fun lunch, and finally an art museum visit on Sunday afternoon where we saw a special exhibit of glass shaped into contemporary displays. The one shown was called “Expanded Access,” and if you can read the title sign, it signifies stanchions that are found in “banks, custom areas, [and] airports.” As the sign continues: “Stanchions mark social space and limit individual movement ... but [the artist’s] barriers can easily be broken and breached.”

The final photo is a view from my hotel room’s balcony. A lovely place to start and end the day, with a great view of both an inland waterway (with a drawbridge that opened when necessary for tall boats to pass beneath) and the ocean beyond.

All and all, a wonderful weekend with my oldest!

Wanting to end this blog on a more meditative note, I turned to Lin Yutang’s The Importance of Living which I cited a blog or so back. In it, Lin has a chapter on travel. He rues the lost art of travel for pleasure and begins by listing three reasons for false (or purposeful) travel:

The first kind of false travel is a trip to improve your mind. He suggests instead letting the mind lie fallow and giving it a rest so when you return to your work, you are refreshed and ready to be creatively productive.

The second kind of false travel is for conversation after the trip is over, inflicting photos upon your friends that they may not want to see and chattering on about what you saw and did. “The tourists are so busy with their cameras that they have no time to look at the places themselves.”

And the third kind of false travel is, for Lin, traveling with a tight schedule, shuttling back and forth with a strict deadline for each appointed site. “Bound by the clock and run by the calendar as he is at home, he is still bound by the clock and run by the calendar while abroad.”

Finally Lin concludes that “a true traveler is always a vagabond, with the joys, temptations and sense of adventure of the vagabond. Either travel is “vagabonding or it is not travel at all. The essence of travel is to have no duties, no fixed hours, no mail [or email!], no inquisitive neighbors ... and no destination.”

Despite the fact that I did have a destination (to visit my son), and we did improve our minds a bit by visiting the glass collection in the art museum, and I have now inflicted upon you this blog so I could talk about the trip and make something of travel itself; and despite an occasional peek at my emails on my phone, otherwise I would say we were pretty much a couple of vagabonds, wandering down streets and byways, sipping champagne while staring at the ocean’s horizon, and just embracing the joy of being together, celebrating Mom’s Day early. It was indeed a wonderful travel adventure ... despite the inedible airline food along the way.

Sandra M. Levy, Ph.D., M.Div.
Sandra M. Levy, Ph.D., M.Div.>

Sandra M. Levy, Ph.D., M.Div.

I am a clinical psychologist, Episcopal priest and author, and I currently serve as Priest Associate and Theologian-in-Residence at historic St. John's Church in Richmond, Virginia. Other posts by Sandra M. Levy, Ph.D., M.Div.
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