My lap top indicates I’m flying at 536 miles per hour at a hight of 39,239 feet. This is over 6 miles above the earth. Even though I’ve flown many times and the aerodynamics’ of flight has been explained to me in great detail on Wikipedia, I still find it hard to grasp the unrealness of it all. Animal shaped clouds drift by offering me a grin and a wink, several aisles over a baby wails, experienced flyers snooze, everyone is somewhere between “here and there”—ain’t life funny that way.
To forget how to fly at this altitude, to lose ones faith in formulas and physics would send this metal contraption plummeting nose first towards the brown wrinkled rug looking mountains below. I feel a sense of powerlessness as a wave of panic serge’s through my sweaty body. Physics is only numbers, numbers can’t keep a plane from dropping out of the sky like a rock—at this moment, at least for me, it’s magic and faith holding this metal tube in a state of flight. The fusel-lodge shutters as we pass through another set of turbulent winds and thermals. The jet engines drone on in the background as I throw back my third ginger-ale and Jack. I eat my stale pretzels and ask God to have mercy on my undeserving wicked soul—–the fear of impending doom brings out the dormant God in us all.
The air in the cabin is stale and smells and tastes as if it has been inhaled and exhaled by everyone on the plane five times over. I sit squeezed in my chair next to a middle aged guy who has commandeered control of our common armrest forcing me to tuck my elbow uncomfortably into my ribcage. Why am I always seated next to these infidel foreigners who have no appreciation or understanding of the American, Christian, democratic way of life. I’d love to challenge him to recite the pledge of Allegiance or ask him to spout-off a few bible quotes by heart. If he failed (which I know he would) I’d take great pleasure in confiscating his “forged” passport. I’m growing more angry by the moment, his wheezing breath, his mere presence beside me is unbearably annoying. I stare at him out of the corner of my eye to size him up. “Yeah, I think I could kick his scrawny imperialistic ass.” I fight back the urge to slam my left elbow into his right arm and rightfully claim dominion over my armrest. Or—-better yet, I could open a magazine and in the process covertly “accidentally” yet firmly nudge his arm out of my territory. As I consider my available tactics and strategies the stewardess comes by and leans into our hellish tangle of arms, legs, drop-down trays, newspapers and laptops to whisper something in my insurgents—I mean, neighbors ear.
The stewardess gives him a hug and I immediately seize the opportunity to claim the vacated space. What a freaking idiot to be so easily distracted and in the process expose his vulnerability. The stewardess isn’t even all that pretty, the poor fool probably never gets laid and is some kind of androgens eunuch. As for that bitch—I mean stewardess, she’s nothing but a glorified snack-bar attendant. I smugly settle back in my chair and relish my hard-won victory.
The alcohol has filled my bladder causing me extreme discomfort as I fight back the need to relive myself. I’m sure, that as soon as I vacate my seat I will lose the hard-won ground I’d so valiantly conquered. I decide that the situation is not worth pissing my pants over, so I brashly force my way out to the center aisle (without excusing myself) and head for the lavatory at the tail of the plane.
As I exit the restroom I come face to face with the stewardess who solemnly asks, “Would you mind taking this heating pad and pillow to your neighbor?” With a knee jerk reflex I respond in a voice of intolerance, “Can’t he get his own Goddamn pillow and hot pad.” She takes a deep breath and in an even voice responds, “Your neighbor, John—he has a shunt in his right arm. Once every week he flies to the Denver Medical Center to provide bone marrow treatments to his nine-year old son. His right arm gets sore, so the heat and pillow is just a small courtesy to try and help him feel more comfortable. It appears that its too much trouble for you, so just forget it.” I look down at her name tag and respond, “Ah—oh”—well—–uh-um–Cathy, well of course not, it’s no trouble at all. Now give me that pillow please.” My forehead breaks out in beads of sweat, I apologize to her and then turn to make that long trek back to my seat. The jet jumbles about and I stumble sideways. I wish this piece of shit plane would fall out of the sky and crash so I wouldn’t have to face this stranger, this guy named John, the person to whom I’ve invested so much hate. . . A sense of shame pulses from my temples, traveling down my throat and settling at the pit of my twisting stomach.
I’ve been trying to become a better person, but so easily and so often, I forget how to do the right thing. The briefness of being alive, the cruelty of nature, the unexplainable unfairness of life, the uncertainty of losing those closest to us, the inevitability of disease, calamity, misfortune and death, all this should teach us to be kinder to one another—to be accepting and forgiving, but it doesn’t. We pull and push at each other, we slash and tear at one another—-I have so much to learn and such a long way to go, and so little time to get there.
I take my seat and hand over the pillow and heating pad. “The stewardess Cathy, she wanted you to have this.” He shakes his head, “I told her not to make a fuss. She’s ridiculous, but she’s such a great spirit.” I ask about his arm but he skirts the issue and says its nothing. I’m tempted to inquire about his son but I get the feeling that this is sacred territory reserved for those who know and understand such a heartache. We fill our time with such mundane topics as the weather, smart phone apps and our musical tastes. He pulls up pictures of his family on his laptop. There is one of his son decked out in a blue and white little league uniform. He’s on one knee smiling with a bat slung over his shoulder. I’m a writer and pride myself in being observant and compassionate, but apparently I’m neither. It is only now that I detect the worrisome lines on his face and a sadness hiding deep his eyes.
The captain comes over the intercom telling us that the temperature in Denver is seventy-seven degrees and that the wind is blowing from the northwest at 15 mph. With the muted enthusiasm of a fast food attendant, he announces that in approximately eighteen minutes we will be touching down in Denver. To me, these words are proclaiming a miracle, we’re almost there. We’ve flown one-third of the way across the country without stalling and succumbing to the effects of gravity.
I look out my window at a patch quilt of green parks, subdivisions with backyard pools, golden fields and a skyline on a hazy horizon. With my finger against the window I trace along the path of a toy-sized road, its purpose and destination is a mystery to me. Down there, life is forcing itself over roads, across rivers, filling up water-towers, absorbing countryside, suburbs and cities—occupying space, falling through time, desperately moving its way through, over and inside everyone and everything that stands in its way. Down there, thousands of people carry on with their lives, their purpose and destination is a mystery to me—-so many people I’ll never know, so many things I’ll never understand. Where is god in all this? God isn’t, knowing. God isn’t, not knowing. God is in the wonder—ah yes, the enigmatic and elusive wonder of it all.
I want to say something inspirational or encouraging to John, but he doesn’t know that I’m aware of his dire predicament. I have no words for the secret revelations surfacing in me—so I sit dumbfounded lost in the sorrow of this solemn moment.
The wheels thump down on the runway, everyone lurches forward and there is a loud skidding sound of brakes being applied as the engines make a roaring sound. We taxi our way towards the terminal. Suddenly everyone is on their feet pulling down their carry-on luggage. John turns around, “Hey can you do me a favor?” “Sure, anything. What do ya need?” He hands me an envelope, “If I try to give this to Cathy I know she’ll refuse it. She’s a volunteer for the Wounded Warrior Program. They raise funds to help returning Vets. Ya know, for things like housing, counseling and medical needs. Could ya please give her this card and envelope.” He hesitates and then leans into me, “Her husbands a Vet. He was hurt really bad over there and is now confined to a facility where he receives around the clock care.” I nod to John and offer up a stern grimace to convey my empathy. Yeah right—-I’m suddenly Mr. Empathetic.
When you come to understand that God uniquely, personally, unequivocally and eternally loves you, that’s when it becomes easier to be compassionate—-and it also becomes less threatening to forgive all and give yourself to others—conversely it becomes more difficult to be selfish and unkind—who wants to disappoint God—–not me. It’s required a huge leap of faith to get to this place, but these divine convictions are what allow planes to defy gravity and mere mortals to let Gods love flow through them—-and then to be passed on to all others.
It’s not important my point of departure or my final destination, it’s the things I do between “here and there” that define me.