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Terry Marotta Headshot

On Feeling Safe: In Boston or Anywhere

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It now seems a world away from this blooming time, that winter's day when I was trying to carry my3-year-old grandson down the set of stone steps that led from our driveway.

"We just need to be a little careful here," I said to him, knowing well that to descend any steps is to execute many carefully calibrated movements that amount to a controlled fall.

And so I hesitated at the top.

"Are you OK, TT?" the little boy asked. He calls me TT.

"Oh yes!" I said as cheerily as I could. "I just want to good and careful!'

He gathered the fabric of my jacket into his small fist then and uttered a sentence I will never forget.

"It's OK," he said in his little-boy lisp. "I am holding you."

And that is one story.

Another story unfolded during a flight I recently took on a plane holding just 67 people, as I heard the flight attendant report to the people at the gate.

Sixty-seven souls, as they used to say once.

A near-full plane with only 67 passengers is a small plane by most standards, its cabin so cozy I could hear everything that the man five rows in front of me was saying to this flight attendant.

"So this is first class!" he began, and that got my attention because it's just what I was thinking: I too was in first class for the first time, because the airline put me here for no extra money.

I felt like a sort of impostor, I'll admit. I felt a little uncomfortable.

Maybe the man felt uncomfortable too, I thought, because his voice had a strange constricted quality, which the flight attendant had to lean in close to hear.

"What about this wind shear you're always hearing about?" I heard him ask; and you don't have to say that phrase twice to get my attention, wind shear being that sudden downdraft of air that can pull a plane right out of the sky -- that did pull a plane out of the sky recently, causing it to belly-flop into the sea while attempting to land at an airfield in Bali.

Time was, I saw commercial flight as a tame and snoozy thing compared to the space flights we were all reading about back then.

It was, in my mind, like a ride on a ferris wheel, a sort of sublime lifting-up where you got the chance to sit back and view the whole park.

I don't feel that way about air travel now -- and, clearly, this man didn't either.

"Never mind wind shear, what about gravity?" I heard him say in an even tighter voice. "How can planes not get sucked down out of the sky every day?"

It was then that I realized: This was the man's very first airplane flight -- which is why the flight attendant had put him up front near her.

She had put him there to look after him.

"It's OK," she intoned softly. "It's ohhh-kay," she repeated, her hand on his shoulder.

"I've got you," she said, and the phrase took me right back to that winter day and the fear I had at the top of those icy steps, with my little grandchild in my arms.

She was holding him, just as that child felt that he was holding me, even as I knew that I was holding him.

We are all holding one another in this life. We are all keeping each other safe; and we do have the power to do that, as we are taught again and again in this life.

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