I’m sitting at Gate 150 at LAX’s Tom Bradley International Terminal. By tomorrow, I’ll be in France. Ever heard of it? It’s that place where the cheese and wine are plentiful and the terror attacks seem to be happening more frequently. I’ll be flying over the Atlantic and considering the recent spate of airplane crashes and disappearances, I’m thinking about my flying safety for the first time since 2008.
Why 2008? That’s when I first went to Israel. It’s when I first went anywhere, really. I had avoided going on the free ten-day trip known as Birthright Israel (aka Taglit) for years, but with my eligibility dwindling and my friend Josh pushing me to join him, I opted to partake in the trip. My excuse for not going in all of my other eligible years (you can go from ages 18-27) was that I was sure I would go and instantly a war would break out. How silly, right? So I booked the trip — after all, how do you turn down a free international trip like that? We landed just before Christmas.
On the second day I was there, war broke out in Gaza. Perfect. My greatest fear was realized and I had a front row seat to a country at war. Oddly enough, though, I loved it. We don’t get to live through wars on American soil (not that I would want to). The last major war on in the US was the Civil War and now we do our fighting on other peoples’ turf. Sorry, world.
Having the experience of seeing a country at war was incredible. The most remarkable thing was the calm with which all Israelis seemed to be handling the situation. Perhaps it’s because they’re used to it. Perhaps it’s because Israelis have a bravado and fatalism that I’ve never seen before. Whatever it was, they weren’t scared and, as a result, neither was I.
Now I’m off to France, where an office full of journalists was slaughtered over a joke. As a comedy writer/journalist, this hits closer to home for me than most. While the world says “Je Suis Charlie,” I’ve had to realize that I’ve been Charlie for a long time now. My girlfriend is nervous about my trip. My father, for the first time in years, told me to be safe. Does that mean I’m afraid to go?
For better or worse, terrible things happen everywhere. Extremism, violence, and random accidents claim the lives of people every single day. I won’t be walking around Lyon trying to get into trouble, but I won’t be hiding in my hotel room either, cowering from the possibility that my life could take a tragic turn.
It’s not just on the ground that gives us cause for concern. For those of us who fly regularly, the possibility of an in-flight accident is very real and it seems to be getting more and more so with every plane crash. In fact, I can’t remember a year where there’s been more turmoil regarding the safety of planes. In the past year, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared over the Gulf of Thailand, Malaysia Flight 17 got shot down over the Ukraine, and AirAsia Flight 8501 crashed near Borneo. So many people lost lives. So many families now live with the grief of losing their loved ones when they were just traveling from one place to another. It’s horrific. It’s near unthinkable. Yet, it happened.
This doesn’t make me afraid.
Admitting fear is a difficult task. You instantly acknowledge your vulnerability and mortality in the same breath. Not only do you not want to die, you have to also admit that it’s imminently possible. That’s life, though, isn’t it? Whenever you wake up, there’s a possibility that each breath could be your last. Things happen all the time for all kinds of reasons, rational and irrational. If I let the fear of travel get to me, I’d hole myself up at home and never leave.
As travelers, I think we have a duty to accept the fear. That’s not to say we should put ourselves in dangerous situations, but we shouldn’t necessarily change our plans just because something bad happened near where we’re going. The world is a dangerous place, but it’s also a place filled with wonder and joy and the entire range of humanity and experience. I’ll keep traveling, to France and beyond, because the risk is always outweighed by the reward.
If I somehow don’t make it back one day, at least I’ll have lived the best life I could.