Yesterday morning I was packed and ready for my trip to Columbus, Georgia in good time and not wrapped around the axle about it, and much to my surprise, the world did not end.
I’ve had a travel phobia since I was three years old and (a) Mom divorced my father, (b) she brought me from the only home I knew in Pocatello, Idaho, down to her family in Alabama, where (c) we landed in a family ruckus about my grandfather being not only a terrible-tempered old man, which was no secret, but unfaithful, as in, down the road in town there was a nearly grown, hitherto unsuspected half sister to Mom and her siblings, and (d) that secret clawing its way out of the family closet was emotionally damaging to Mom, coming on top of her divorce, and pushed her into depression that lasted for years; (e) she considered her marriage dead and buried, and her ex-husband pretty much the same, and made it clear without so many words that I had best feel that way too so (f) I never saw my father again. There was some vague plan for me to go see him after I graduated from high school, but he had a fatal heart attack when I was 14. Mom didn’t send me back for his funeral. I didn’t see Pocatello again until as an adult I resolved to go up there and find my father’s second wife. She was the most gracious and wonderful woman imaginable, and she did the next best thing to giving me my father back. She gave me photos, heirlooms, her recollections and those of something like twenty people she took me around to talk to about my father. Thank you, Kate; live forever in the nearer of presence of God.
So I had plenty of good psychological reason for a bad travel phobia. The prospect of going away to college in Texas nearly flattened me with dread and anxiety – but it turned out in a wonderful way when I loved Rice University and Houston. For years, though, I stayed afraid of trips in general and especially trips in a southeasterly direction. I hated pine trees, which reminded me of the South. But I traveled anyway to various locations in the US from Northern California and Washington State to Washington DC and across the southern latitudes from Miami to Los Angeles. I’ve traveled cross-country with pilot friends in small airplanes. My pilot friend Kristin is well acquainted with my travel phobia and maintains that it makes me the most meticulous travel planner she’s ever known. The phobia loosens its grip as soon as any trip actually starts, so I enjoy travel and I’m a good travel companion. And every time I get home it’s like a reprieve from death and doom. I’m so happy that my home unexpectedly still exists: it hasn’t been destroyed by fire or another ill fate after all!!! – that I’m on a post-travel high for the better part of a week. Above all else life has shown me that a phobia (or depression or general anxiety or chronic fear) is not a thing that tells the truth. It tells lies. If you shake off or plow through or pray through the terrible feeling, the actual outcome may be glorious.
Not having the phobia kick in at all is a novel experience of the sort where deep down you think, This is too good not to be corrected by something really unpleasant like the world ending. But at last report, the world did not in point of fact end. Yesterday’s flight from Houston was fine. I’m in Columbus staying with cousins whom I really like, and I’m on my way over to the assisted living facility where Mom lives now. Things change . . . and not always for the worse. It can just take time and experience and grace to iron out the early imprint of a traumatic change.