Saturday, February 21, 2009
Up In An Airplane
Up on the airplane, nearer my God to thee, I start making a deal inspired by gravity - Emily Saliers (Indigo Girls)
The other day when I was out walking with Rigby, something above caught my eye. Like a faint ghost, a big passenger jet was carving a trail through the bright, blue morning sky. I thought about the scores of people, all the souls inside that distant plane. Some, maybe sitting with their seats reclined and their Ipods on. Maybe someone's reading a book that I've read or chatting with the attendant. Somebody's eating peanuts and having a diet Coke or a chardonnay.
Many of the flights that originate out of Logan airport pass right over my little town. At night they can be seen approaching from the east with big, bright lights ablaze, like high beams. As they get nearer, the big lights suddenly go out and just the blinking red and green lights seem to stay on.
I don't like to fly. Even though I know that air travel is vastly safer than car travel, I'd prefer to take my chances on the ground, rather than at 30,000 feet.
The take off is always the worst for me. In my car, I feel that I have some degree of control over what happens. In the air, I am at the complete mercy of the pilot, who I've never met and know nothing about. For all I know, he could have just taken three Ambien and washed it down with a couple of whiskey sours after a fight with his ex-wife. I guess this probably means I'm a control freak, I don't know. Plus, there's that whole "gravity" thing. I have no understanding of physics, really.
As the plane starts to move, I clutch my rosary beads, scapula or a prayer card and shut my eyes. I'm chomping gum to try and pop my ears before the altitude does it for me in a more painful way. My stomach flip-flops. I pray silently as we taxi down the runway, and I hold my breath until we are up and we level out. The landing is no piece of cake either, but it's usually not as traumatic for me as take-off.
That morning as I looked up at that plane, I was reminded of the last flight I took.
I was traveling down to Florida with my sister and one of my brothers to attend the wedding of our nephew in a town near Tampa last November. The take-off had been as smooth as silk and we were waiting for the attendants to come back with our drinks. I watched as the Earth fell away from my window, then took a deep breath and glanced around the cabin. I caught my brother's eye and asked, "How're you doing?" He answered, "Wondering how the heck it's possible that we are rocketing through space in this metal cigar."
I laughed out loud because I have had that exact thought many times. It seems like such a crazy, improbable thing to be doing, and if you didn't know for a fact that such a thing is possible, you'd never believe it, would you? A big, steel tube weighing thousands of pounds, filled with more than a hundred people and their stuff, taking off from the ground and speeding through the air, then safely landing at your destination. It's nuts.
That was a great trip, because not only did we get to see our other brother and our two nephews and experience the wedding, we also got to spend a few days together, just the three siblings without our spouses or kids. We really had a good time and a lot of laughs together. Even though I really couldn't afford the trip, I knew it would be a rare experience that I would not want to miss, and I was right. It was so worth it, and I'm glad I made the decision to go.
Everytime I look up and see those passenger jets overhead, I am reminded how so many things that we take for granted in our every day lives are actually so incredible. Really makes it seem like anything is possible.