We crossed through two jet streams on our flight from San Francisco to London. The first was shortly after takeoff and the second was right before landing. Whenever the plane shakes like that I swear I'm the only passenger convinced we're going to plummet from the sky. I usually clutch onto the arm rests and glare at everyone else in an accusatory manner, wondering why they don't look terrified too. "People, we're going down!" I have to keep myself from shouting.

According to Patrick Smith, author of Ask the Pilot, turbulence is wind, and "just as you don't suddenly grab the wheel in a white knuckle panic when your car drives over a gravel road, pilots don't sweat during in-flight bumpiness." Smith explains how pilots are not too fussed about it. "A wind-whipped landing is nothing too tense on the flight deck. Airplanes are inherently stable, always wanting to return to their original spot in space, and the crew is not wrestling with the beast as much as riding it out."

So, Smith says, turbulence isn't much too worry about. Mostly it's the flight attendants who get injured from it (no wonder with the way they continue the drinks service while sweat trickles down my brow). Only about 20 passengers each year are hurt from turbulence annually in the United States – out of the 800 million or so who fly each year there. (For everything you ever wanted to know about flying, check out Smith's website, also called Ask the Pilot – it's got all the answers to everything you've ever wondered about flying.)

Smith does admit that turbulence can seem scary, after all "everybody who steps on a plane is on some level uneasy, and there's not a more poignant reminder of flying's innate precariousness than a good walloping at 37,000 feet."

Yes. I'll say. The whole flying thing is quite scary to me even if I (sort of) understand the physics of it. I watched a TV program once about fear of flying and apparently it boils down to a melange of three separate phobias: claustrophobia, lack of control and heights. For me, fear of flying has become worse as I've grown older. Something to do with another phobia, called one's own mortality, I believe.

But here's the thing. I don't want to give up the good things that come along with flying. I want to see different parts of the world. I want to fly home each year to see my friends and family in New York. And I want to go to my friends' weddings, even if they are happening 10-11 hours away by plane.

Standing in the security line last Monday afternoon I scrunched up my face and did quite a bit of whining in my head (although perhaps some of it was out loud?) about how I didn't want to get into what my Mom calls, "that tin can in the sky."

But that's the thing about life. Pretty much you get the bad with the good. And flying in a plane isn't actually that dangerous – turbulence doesn't really hurt you (unless you're very, very unlucky). And I think that's a good metaphor. Sometimes fear really is what we have to fear. I find time and again that going through something painful is painful, yes, but at the end of it I'm still in one piece, and sometimes even better off.

So when things get bumpy, just hold on, breathe and think about which movie you're going to watch next.

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