Sunday, September 18, 2011

What Are You Afraid Of?

I just read an article about space junk falling to earth. Really! NASA says a 6-ton satellite the size of a bus will fall out of orbit this week, breaking up into 26 pieces that will survive the burning re-entry. They’ve moved up their estimated target date to Friday, but have not said where they think this stuff will fall yet. I will be on an airplane on Friday. I already have some fear of flying and this isn’t helping.

Statistically, flying is the safest form of travel. That does not comfort me. I have probably flown more than a hundred times and only once was there any obvious safety issue – a very bumpy landing in some tricky post-thunderstorm winds. I emphasize “obvious” in the last sentence. There are many unknowns relating to metal fatigue, inadequate inspections, inexperienced or drunk pilots. The terrorist attacks ten years didn’t help any. In fact, I did a radio interview with a psychologist about fear of flying just a month after 9 11 that year and he was very reassuring. That interview was basically a free psyche consult for me because I knew I’d be on a plane later that fall. I’ve only been on three planes since 2001 and no flights for the past five years.

I am not obsessed over this but it is on my mind because I am taking two round-trip flights in the next two months. Falling space junk is dangerous if it hits somebody on the ground, catastrophic if it hits a plane in the air. NASA says the odds of somebody getting hit are 1 in 3200. One of my flights is to Vegas – should I make a bet? That is certainly more thrilling than my annual LSU-Arkansas bet, although not as much fun.

So what, if anything, scares you? Do you have any of the typical or publicized fears, like fear of flying, fear of losing your job, fear of clowns? Are you afraid of food poisoning? Terrorism? Asking someone out on a date? Do you experience fear of failure? Fear of success? Are you scared to go into certain neighborhoods in your town? Are you afraid your shoes and your belt don’t match? Are you worried about the possibility that part of a falling satellite might rip a hole through the plane you’re on next Friday?

Or do cerebral things scare you? One of mine is that I might die before I do some of the things I want to do while I’m still young enough to do them. That probably scares me more than the remote chance that space junk will hit my plane.

None of this is predictable, of course. Experts can estimate chances but very little in life is certain, except that it will end some day. For much of my life I considered myself to be pretty boring, yet when I look back, I know I’ve led an amazingly exciting life so far. And I think there is plenty more to come. I have places to visit, hikes to take, women to love, songs to write, pictures to take, conversations to have.

So, am I truly afraid of this space junk thing Friday? You should know that I usually have a “half-full” attitude rather than a “half-empty” one. If the chances of being hit by space debris are 1 in 3200, then the odds of NOT being hit are 3199 in 3200. I’ll go with that one.

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