[image credit: Sunset from above the clouds]
I’ve always liked to fly, perhaps in large part because I fly so rarely. Despite the hum-drum and aggravations of traveling through air, it has always been a special treat for me. I particularly like to fly at night or in the early morning, where for one shining moment the world fades away.
You sit on the tire-blackened runway, untold inches thick of rubber streaking storied scars into the dark asphalt. The airport thrums excitedly, a small city of caretakers and travelers pulsing through its great veins. The cacophony of activity is overwhelming. You find yourself distracted, a headache forming, trying to take it all in. Travelers with worn earmarked bags or polished shoes keep themselves removed and focused, but you seek no such luxury as you try to take in the commotion.
You wait in anticipation as the plane taxis to its place. Is this the moment? No just a turn. How about now? No. The plane hasn’t been cleared for take-off yet.
At last you hear the tell-tale roar of the engines flexing their might. Images of astronauts and shuttle launches cross your mind as the acceleration weights you into your chair. You wait for the critical moment, where the air foil overcomes the earths pull and the nose points towards the sky. While gravity is distracted, the plane makes an escape and leaps up into the air!
Higher and higher you climb; the ground retreats in defeat.
At a certain point – of which I have never been able to quite discern – there is a shift. You sit there, helpless in giant metal tube, unknowingly clutching the arm rest, the roar and shake of the engine filling your senses. You’re watching the busy city below you shrink smaller and smaller, and suddenly every thing just… fades away. The city, so full of life just mere moments ago, recedes into itself and becomes still. Juxtapose against your industrial and noisy setting, the landscape below holds its breath. Everything is quiet. There, floating in the sky, you behold something crystalline and naive – a moment captured in time.
The cars gently trundle their way through twists and turns. Buildings and houses sit quiet and reserved against their grassy knolls. The trees rest. The lights of faraway street lamps twinkle up at you in the twilight like a tiny sparkling galaxy.
As you continue to rise, you notice the first tufts of clouds, gently shrouding your view. Before you know it you’re submerged into a vast world of swirling, questioning mist. For a time, that is all there is. Just as you adjust yourself to this quite gray, the plane bursts brilliantly above the cloud cover, revealing a stoic ocean of vapor against the azure sky.
Here float mighty towers of swirling cotton. Unexplored valleys and trenches in an alien unique landscape never to be seen again. Here too everything is calm. The new sun peers contemplatively at the cloud tops, as if unsure whether to rise or not. The great blue-gray mountains are snow capped with a peach-orange glow. You imagine falling into the shrouded landscape and wandering this strange new terrain. You stare as long as you can, trying to memorize each new turret of towering mist, until finally your attention is drawn back to other concerns, leaving the ethereal landscape for another way-ward traveler.
When I was a child, I used to stare up at the jet liners leaving behind their vapor trails and imaging the silvery glint of the plane to be the tip of a giant cosmic knife, slicing apart the blue fabric of our sky. I thought the vapor tails to be a mighty gash, torn apart and then slowly stitched back together as the knife moved onward.
In some ways, I still think of flying this way – as a tear through which we peer into a greater unknown. It isn’t hard to think of the swirling landscape of clouds as something akin to a realm of the gods, and yourself a solitary intruder on the unknowing landscape.
The stillness of being above everything really lends perspective to the stress of daily life on the surface below. Its easy to get wrapped up in the chaos of our own lives, and to feel as though the world is spiraling out of control. But up in the air, the world is quiet and peaceful. Removed from the immediateness of it all, I am filled with contentment and an inexplicable feeling that, no matter how chaotic things feel, the world below me will continue to do just fine.