I’m writing this just a few minutes past midnight, less than twenty-four hours before I fly from the U.S. to Sweden. When I bought the plane tickets, my mother was dismayed, worried about how soon I would be flying after the 9/11 anniversary.
Everyone has a 9/11 story. Mine is mostly a vivid memory of the footage of the plane hitting one of the towers against the then-clear blue sky. I remember the blue sky, and the fact that my dad’s Baltimore accent made his announcement of “terrorists attacking” sound like “tourists attacking.”
Fast forward twelve years. While I can’t forget 9/11, I hardly remember it’s a day in September (a day that also happens to be my cousin’s birthday, an ordinary Wednesday, the day my mom has a Pilates class). It’s an event that triggered a bizarre national aura of togetherness and then rabid patriotism. It catalyzed military engagements that have had staggering consequences for the past decade; it shaped the politics of this country and is influential in the way we are thinking about Syria.
It’s hard to think of that as one specific day. And, while there may be a slightly higher security risk around the anniversary of the attacks, there are also very stringent security measures being enforced. Plane travel is still much safer, statistically, than getting in a car. I don’t have a fear of flying.
I do have other fear.
I’m afraid of the unknown, afraid of uncertainty, afraid of potentially unpleasant interactions. I fear failure and risk. I’m afraid of the world, in a sense; in particular, I’m afraid of what I don’t understand, what I haven’t seen face to face.
This is a really dangerous kind of fear.
This is the kind of fear that makes me less likely to try something if I don’t know that I’ll succeed. This is the kind of fear that has guided many of my worst decisions and lurks right behind most of my biggest regrets.
It is also the kind of fear that breeds hate. Fear prevents or delays empathy, as it is an easier reaction, one triggered far faster than forgiveness.
Today, I am afraid of not flying.