It is a writer’s dream, flying high at sunrise. The plane is quiet in the way it is in the beginning of a flight when everyone is silent in reflection and hopefulness, hope for a good weather, hope for a great vacation, hope the plane doesn’t crash.
As soon as I write those words, the plane starts to jiggle, adjusting itself to new air, a new level. Stepping higher can be rough business sometimes and I never assume a flight that starts out smooth will stay that way.
I start each flight figuring it’s my last. I don’t pray to land in one piece. Instead I just give myself over to the fates. I repeat a mantra I made up thirty years ago the first time I flew after probably five years of swearing off air travel, the reason for the decision forgotten but probably due to heartbreak involving airplanes, not people dying, but them being separated and sad and overwrought. Not people, me. I connected planes with being sent packing, pretty much over and over again by the same person. The routine of it was exhausting and created in me a place of almost permanent melancholy.
My mantra is a sign-off, a thanks for the memories kind of thing, short so I can repeat it a dozen times between when the plane revs up and when it is completely off the ground. It’s a farewell. To the earth, to my people, to my life. And once I’ve said it those dozen times (not counting, but estimating), it’s like sealing an envelope and putting it in the big blue mailbox that used to be down the street from my house, on the corner where my kids waited for the school bus. The mailbox is gone now and so are they. No one mails letters anymore anyway.
The pilot just instructed the flight attendants to take their seats. We are in thick clouds and the flying is very bumpy. For a while, it seemed we would quickly be above it all, reach that blue sky over the clouds and sail along like swans on a cool summer pond. I could drink my coffee and marvel at my good luck rather than worrying that the wing is about to snap in half. That I am resigned to the fates doesn’t mean I don’t worry.
It’s smooth now and the seatbelt sign is off. The flight attendant will bring my coffee soon which means I can sit and have the perfect life I imagine myself having. I look at the clouds below, thick like the cotten batting loosed from an old quilt. And I can begin to see the ground, farms with the land in squares, infintesimal houses where people are sitting in their overalls and eating oatmeal. I could have had a life like that. It’s not so foreign. My life could have gone in a hundred different directions.