Scared Cat Drawing by Deborah Henson-ConantThe flight home from Atlanta night-before-last got pretty choppy, and we had one of those pithy pilots who just says, “everyone get to your seats” instead of something comforting like, “Well, folks, we’ll be going through a little band of turbulence as we descend into Boston, so I’d like you to just buckle in and … blah blah blah.”

OK, I’m not always a really calm flyer anyway (though I no longer scream out loud, causing people in the front of the plane to turn around and say, “Whatever you do, please just don’t throw up”). However, I do occassionally ask the person next to me to hold my hand.

Last night was one of those flights, probably more to do with my caffeine intake than the turbulence, though both were on the way-higher-than-average level.

I’d scoped out the situation in advance:

On my right, across the aisle, was a guy who I knew had once been a basketball player,and whose wife – further to my right – was also a basketball player and a jewelry designer. They both looked pretty calm, but they were across the aisle and my general rule is to only request across-the-aisle hand-holding if nobody is sitting next to me (or if, as has happened, the person next to me has already indicated their own anxiety level is way beyond mine – usually via a mime-activity of some sort).

To my left was a young man in a uniform, who was really happy because he was headed home on leave. He hadn’t actually been in battle conditions, but he’d been in training and he looked pretty sturdy.

When the turbulence hit, about an hour out of Boston, I weathered it OK for awhile, but it moved into hand-holding territory.

So … hmmm … a guy who protects people for a living, in a comforting uniform with insignias on it is to my left, and an ex-basketball player and his wife are way across the aisle on my right. It should be a pretty simple choice.

BUT … I have reason to believe (bring in the ominous low musical underscoring) … that the enlisted man has … (big timpani roll) … a cold.

So … I reach across the aisle, startling the ex-basketball player, who, it turns out is not the hand-holding kind, but who assures me there’s a lot of turbulence (which is oddly reassuring).

And we make it safely to the ground.

So someone explain this to me, someone who studies the human psyche: I’m so anxious about this flight that I’ll reach across the aisle to invade a stranger’s personal space — but I will not reach to the guy next to me – a guy whose profession is protecting people – because I think has a cold.

Am I really more afraid of a cold than a plane crash? If I don’t really think the plane is going to crash, why am I responding with such physical anxiety?

Why do I feel afraid of the turbulence but act afraid of the cold?

And while we’re at it, how come the taxi credit-card screens in Boston only allow you the option to give 20%, 25% or 30% tip? Do they know that the quotient of our math skills, multiplied by our laziness … no, never mind, I can’t even figure out how to end that sentence. I’ll just go for the answer about fear.

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