During the summer of my 15th year, I went on my first airplane ride. I remember being so excited about the trip. A classmate, our home economics teacher, and I were going to the FHA national convention in Washington, D.C. We had worked for tips as carhops at Sonic and done other fundraising in order to finance the trip. With our suitcases packed, we set out on our adventure.

For some reason, none of us sat together. We were spread throughout the plane and I was seated by a kind-looking older woman. Of course, she was curious about where I was headed and the reason for going there. I told her about the convention, then she asked if I had flown before.

“No,” I replied. “This is the first time I’ve ever flown. I’m a little nervous.”

“Oh, don’t worry, dear,” the woman said as she patted my hand. “I’ve flown lots of times and there’s nothing to be afraid of. I’ll be right here beside you; it will be fine.”

I double checked that my seatbelt was fastened correctly and paid rapt attention to the stewardess as she gave us our emergency instructions. Butterflies danced in my stomach while I looked to see where the nearest exit was and went over the emergency procedures in my head. Taking a deep breath and trying to slow down my fluttering heart rate, I waited in anticipation as the plane finally starting taxiing down the runway.

The plane picked up speed and I couldn’t help grinning. Just as my excitement overcame my nerves, the woman beside, the kind woman who assured me that I didn’t have anything to worry about, grabbed my hand and squeezed so tightly that I thought she would break it.

“Don’t worry, the takeoff is the worst part,” she said shakily, her eyes closed and her mouth twisted in a grimace.

I just patted her with my free hand and said I was glad she was there with me. Of course, the takeoff was smooth and we were gently rising further and further above the earth. In awe I watched the houses below shrink until we were so high we were above the clouds.

Even now, every time I take off in an airplane I think of that sweet lady who tried to calm my fears but who I ended up comforting instead.