Roger von Oech

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Valeria Maltoni


This looks almost like Earth, Wind & Fire... you've been places. I saw two tornadoes touch down on the seashore of Italy from the window of the hotel where I was interpreting for a staff of medical doctors.

Earthquakes were very common in the area where I grew up. The scariest were the ones that shook vertically, where you would literally jump on the chair you were sitting in.

Once I was on a flight that dropped several hundred feet in the air -- it hit a sort of vacuum in the currents. That was not fun. And I was barely 5 when we drove by a plant that exploded. The fire was burning so hot that we could feel the heat wave three miles in the fields where traffic was diverted.

But the scariest things are those we imagine. Our minds can construct the most horrifying scenarios of all.


I think my most intense experience of fear was when I was caught up in the terrorist attacks in London in July 2005. I lived and worked right by the bus which exploded and was caught up in all the chaos on the day.

For me, the aftermath was a mixture of clarity and confusion although the ultimate result was that I became very focused on making changes in my life and taking myself in a new direction. I think I'd call it 'mortality motivation' - the feeling that I had better get on with living the life I truly want to be living right now because you never know what's around the corner.

I do resonate with the comment made above by Valeria though about the scariest things being those we imagine. Even on July 7th, the things which really scared me were the thoughts in my head about what else would happen. Catastrophising even during a catastrophe... interesting how the mind creates storylines...

patti digh

A friend pointed me here, reminding me of the time we were 16 and on a plane bound for Sri Lanka, struck by lightning on the tarmac in New York...Your story of the fire and the basement exit door being locked brought out the wild claustrophobic in me.

Once the jet I was on lost its hydraulic system. As it turns out, a plane's hydraulic system is quite important. We braced for the worst, but lived - and that very day I walked away from the work I was doing. I've written about it here, "Choose Your Seatmates Wisely," if it's of interest:

Thanks for this reminder of what fear brings us...

Phil Dunn

Regarding planes getting struck by lightning and hazards to pilot:

From my dad - ex-USAF pilot:

Maybe rarer than earlier days of flying at lower altitudes. Much effort
is expended avoiding lightning storms. Radar is one of the tools. If you
were to take a hit on the radome (nose) it might mess up the radar. But
being blinded is not one I have ever heard. Generally you are not
looking out the window during storms - you are looking at instruments
including radar screen - so even seeing a close strike on the nose would
be really unusual.

I have never heard of anyone temp blinded by lighting anywhere. If it is
that close you have more problems - mostly wet pants, I would think.

So I would say the statement is not true. As i recall, lightning
generally hits on the wing anyway - if at all.

Roger von Oech

Valeria: Sounds like you've had some interesting experiences. You make an interesting point here: "But the scariest things are those we imagine." In my experience (as I related in my post), the scariest things were those that just happened. The things that I thought were going to be scary (and which I had time to brood about for a period of time) were never as consequential.

Emily: Being next to a terrorist event must have been quite sobering. I remember the morning of 9/11 being at the San Francisco Airport trying to board a flight to Charlotte, NC. No one knew what was going on (it was before all flights had been grounded). The anxiety in the terminal as various reports came in was quite visible.

Patti: Wow! What a story. Thanks for pointing me to it. I encourage this blog's readers to check it out. Yeah, losing the hydraulic system is very serious. There was that United flight that had a similar problem in 1989 that crash landed in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (I think half the passengers were killed). You were fortunate!

john alwyine-mosely

I was supposed to go hill walking in Scotland with a friend in the mid 1980's but he had to cancel at the last moment. The weather looked good so I told the youth hostel my plans in case of problems. I had all the right wet weather gear and the wool walking breeches, the bag of supplies, map and compass.

Set off and all was well until I got to the top and within minutes it went from clear skies to visibility down to less then a foot and driving freezing rain. Again was sensible and looked for the little cairn piles that guided the walkers at times like this put soon lost these and the compass confused so tried to follow a down slope to get off the hill. Big mistake as the slope got steeper and more rocky, it was clear that a wrong step then I was for a head long fall but to go back was to risk exposure by staying for the night until it cleared or until someone came for me.

I decided to go back and wait which I did for several hours as the visibility and storm got worse and I was getting very cold and a bit confused. So I decided to make another stab, this time I found the beginning of a stream and reasoned that if followed this down keeping to where it flowed the strongest I would be guided down(of course faulty logic as some streams flow off a hill at several hundred feet up)

As luck would have as I wandered around I bumped into a bunch of army cadets who were equally lost but were more able to work out a route down. Hence I was back in the hostel but some 5 hours late but not missed as my route plans had not been noted so without the chance meeting its likely I would not have survived the night.

Roger von Oech

Phil: Thanks for the input about lightning hitting planes. All I know is what the pilot told me after this flight; he said that being temporarily blinded had happened to him.
I'll check out your link. Thanks for stopping by.

Carma Dutra

Now I know why my mind is so clear during scary times.

There have been many but the one that really brought my heart up in my throat was when I was flying from Harrisburg, Pa, to Atlanta Ga. in July 1993. It was a gorgeous clear day and the pilot had commented "What a great day for flying"

Stewardesses, were pushing the refreshment cart down the aisle, and people were talking softly. The flght was not full and I was sitting alone in a window seat just behind the wing.

In an instant with out any warning, the plane rolled to the left and the left wing pointed straigh down as the right wing was pointing straight up. My thought was "uh oh", Then miraculously, the plane straightened out.

The stewardesses had held on to the heavy carts and as the plane straightened they laughed and said "oops". I was not amused. The pilot spoke over the intercom and said non chalantly, "Sorry folks, but I didn't see that coming, must have been an air pocket"

We were the only ones in the sky! I transfered planes in Atlanta going to Oakland. An uneventful journey but as I pulled up in my drive way, my granddaughter ran out of the house with a bloody eye. The dog had scratched her at the exact minute I pulled in. Off to the emergency room for stitches. So much for relaxing after a stressful trip.


Your post got me thinking and I realized that I've been in a lot of scary places in my life. Shot at 2 different times before I was 14, getting lost in downtown Dallas and finding ourselves in the middle of a KKK rally (I'm white but it was still freaky scary), several times of getting lost and abandoned in foreign countries without enough money to get where I needed to go (always being rescued by the kindness of strangers), growing up in tornado alley in Texas, getting caught in the middle of a gang fight in Paisley, Scotland, etc. If anyone can say they're here by the grace of God, I guess I'm one of them. And you're right about the clarity they bring. But they also bring scars that, unless you deal with them properly in the aftermath, can cause permanent fears and increasing timidness.

I'm much more cautious than I was at 25 but sometimes I try to do things that take me out of my comfort zone specifically because I don't want to lose the sense of discovery that comes with taking chances.

Rachel Lancaster

what about this scary moment :)

We have been standing at the seaside looking ahead to our next climb in Thailand, while out of the blue, a body falls right beside us. My friend jumps up and shakes it off, however, he can have died. Apparently they ran out of rope and the tip wasn't tied off, so it simply slipped throughout the gri gri leaving the climber in a loose fall.

These guides had our lives in their hands, so we were just a little nervous. We then proceeded to do our first multipitch climb with a determine 8 descender as a substitute of a gri gri which I am used to. Needless to say, I used to be white knuckled all the climb.

Hostels in Cartagena

Woah! that was really scary!

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