I have come to appreciate Earth from above. Whereas I once dreaded flying – we could crash, and all surely die! – I am coming to think that the safest place to be, perhaps other than home in bed, is in the air.
It’s well documented that the drive to and from the airport is more dangerous than the flight. Not to mention the bicycle riding, sailing and other risk-inherent activities I engage in on a regular basis. But flying – and diving, for that matter – are in a different class for me. They both represent a leap into an abyss, separating myself from Earth and air.
My first glimmer of my new thinking paradigm came in the summer of 2011. I was flying home from a visit to my parents in Michigan. It was a bumpy ride, which most people would find disconcerting. The reason: deadly tornadoes below us. It was just days after the devastation in Joplin, Missouri. Just a month before, a tornado had swept through downtown Kansas City.
This day, tornadoes were threatening St. Louis, where I was catching a connecting flight. But the pilot could see the storms, and he assured us that we were landing in a gap between the systems which were raging across the Midwest. I couldn’t get back in the air fast enough!
The recent “Nemo” snowstorm on the East Coast reminded me of my scariest airplane takeoff, and my epiphany – in the Urban Dictionary sense. I was in Reno, Nevada, on a plane going to Oakland, California – a trip which should take inside of an hour. The problem was, it was snowing heavily in Reno and the wings needed constant de-icing. Because of the weather, there was a backup for takeoff, so each time our turn came up, we had iced up and needed to return for more de-icing. My seatmates were two fun women a bit younger than I. We called our husbands and then joked uneasily about needing a drink or getting off the plane. On the second or third try, as we lined up on the runway, I could see from my seat that the wings were again covered, and I wondered if we would take off. This could be it, I felt. I mean, my last flight. But at that moment the pilot walked into the cabin, looked out the window and said, “Nope. Sorry folks, but I’m not comfortable with that. We’re going back for one more try.” Back to de-icing.
By that time it was so late that most planes were gone – we were about three hours behind schedule. My seat mates were still talking about getting off the plane, but we all felt that after all that time, we were committed. So I – expert that I am! – said, “All we need to do is just get into the air, and the wind will evaporate the snow off of the wings. Then, we will be above the clouds. If only we can just take off!” I couldn’t believe that I myself was talking like that. But I realized that it’s what I had learned. And then we finally took off, and sure enough we watched the wings dry, the little bit of ice and snow evaporated, and next we were in the air, headed into the last vestiges of the California sunset above the clouds. Everyone on the plane cheered.
Since then I’ve realized that, while I still don’t relish takeoff and landing, I do appreciate a good, clear view from above. So often it’s just clouds, which aren’t always interesting. It’s when you can get a good clear view of the landscape below that you realize how amazing this planet Earth is, with evidence of its geologic past, and all the evidence of human activity that it shows – and hides.
I’m amazed at how mankind has managed to divide up flatlands into squares and rectangles, and how inaccessible the mountains appear, until you notice ribbon-like roads in the most unlikely looking places. And these days I fly peacefully over places where where more than the weather is bad – places where some of humankind’s biggest problems fester. I look down on the lights in the Arabian Gulf – oil platforms so numerous that you would think you are flying over inhabited land. It’s a piece of the planet I had never expected to see.
I’ve never been a person who likes heights, but maybe that’s changing. Now that I have (finally!) conquered my fear of flying, I can suddenly imagine what it would be like to be in space. I could never before imagine being an astronaut, but now maybe I can. How peaceful it would be, floating in space next to Earth.
I will probably never venture into outer space although if life continues as it has, I won’t say it’s impossible. Maybe if I get into my 90’s and the price comes down, I’ll go on a Space Cruise. Until then, I’ll consider what my Dubai sailing friend Michal did recently – skydiving. Not that I will be up for it any time soon, but you never know.
Thanks for reading!