A soft chime is drowned out by the sound of machinery whirring. The ding is followed by instructions in Thai. I don’t know what the pilot said, but I know what he meant: the plane has begun its descent. Without lifting my head from my book, I quietly pick my feet up off the floor.
I wouldn’t call myself God-fearing or even superstitious. Oftentimes I walk under ladders or open umbrellas inside just to prove to myself that the most influential force in my life is me- not luck nor any predisposed fate. But when I’m on a plane I follow all the rules religiously.
Thanks to my dad’s flight benefits, I’ve seen the world. Over countless plane rides, I’ve created my own superstition. During taxi, takeoff, and landing, I lift my feet from the floor. It started as a trivial game. After my grandma died, however, and I got a taste of the permanence of mortality, the “game” took on real meaning. It gives me a superficial feeling of control. Thus far I’ve never lifted my feet and regretted it, so I lift my feet once again as the plane begins to descend into a torrential rainstorm.
My legs hurt. It takes more muscle than you might think to hover your feet, but the dull ache is nothing compared to going up the stairs after a hard running workout. With the thought of pain in my mind, I tried to distract myself by thinking about how different running is compared to flying. I hadn’t planned on running in high school because, in the words of my parents I am more “artistically inclined,” but when I started running I learned that genetic talent could only help you so much in the sport. Running, to me, became the perfect test of character. It was difficult, but the more I worked the better I raced. I proved to myself and my family time and time again that I could be whoever I wanted to be. I could do it. Unlike my plane riding experiences where control is an illusion, in running the only thing that matters is how fast I train, how hard I endure, and how quickly I overcome. I ran for four years and went from being the second worst runner on the team to a 5A state competitor thanks to my own volition. The success made the pain worth it.
With a bright flash of lightning, I am jolted back to reality, and, despite the year round training, the storm makes it hard to keep my feet from touching the floor. I lean over my sister, Ashleigh, who I gave up the window seat for, to see rain turn the window opaque. Ashleigh looks at me with a fiery excitement in her eyes and moves her head so that it covers the majority of the window. I turn to my parents. My dad, a seasoned commercial pilot, looks unfazed by the rising intensity of the storm, while my mom’s fear is apparent, as evidenced by the lack of color in both her cheeks and her knuckles. She looks like she is praying, and I understand why. In a situation like this, where nothing you do will change the outcome, all you can do is hope and pray or hold your feet in the air, and I guess that’s why I love running so much.
In the end, the plane never did end up crashing into the small island of Koh Samui. Be it superstition, prayer, or the pilot’s skill we landed safely, and that next day I woke up and went for a run through the sleeping town and down to the beach. As the sun rose over the horizon my feet welcomed the warm textured sand and even though my legs had to fight every step to overcome the consistency, I knew that I could do it.