Flight 50

Every time I fly across the country, especially east to west, I can't help but think that people used to make this trip in wagon trains. Imagine the hardships they faced — the months of travel in this untamed land with its steep mountains, snowy passes, drought-stricken plains, snakes, wild animals, sun, rain, mud, rivers. Consider the Indian attacks, the primitive medical supplies, and the disaster of broken wagons or wounded horses. The guy behind me in 30G is complaining about the person in 29G whose hat is blocking his view of the in-flight movie!

  I try to remember these things when I am tempted to complain about such imaginary hardships as sitting in the middle seat of a DC-10 with two sleeping bodies between me and the freedom of the aisles on either side. I try to remember those real hardships when I can use my passenger light while the cabin is darkened for the mid-morning transcontinental movie.

   I have to admire the woman in the window seat across the aisle. She's the only one refusing to close the curtain on her window despite repeated requests by flight attendants to do so.

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Hazy light from the lonely oval streams in on her row of airline seats and slightly diffuses the color tones on the movie screen. I'd like to believe that she does this to maintain some contact with reality outside this screaming silver bullet.

   Ground. Although at 37,000 feet it resembles something from Rand McNally rather than the creation of God, that ground is the sole indication that we are moving at a high altitude and a very high rate of speed.

   I like this woman. If I had a window seat, I'd keep the curtain up, too. Something in me wants to go over there and applaud.

   Maybe it's because this airplane scene somehow represents my life. That woman — and I with her — seem to be fighting for one small window of hazy reality in the middle of an airborne Hollywood fantasy. The darkened plane, the filtered air, and the darting, flashing celluloid all pull me into someone else's story, someone else's reality.

   Somewhere below me is the truth. Somewhere down there I can walk and smell the pungent sage as it is crushed under my boots. Somewhere down there I can taste the dirt and feel the wind on my face. Somewhere down there I can feel the sun dry my lips.

   "I am the way, the truth and the life," Jesus said. "But what is truth?" Pilate asked, and Jesus gave no reply. So I'll ask you. What is truth? Does it crack your lips? Does it catch in your throat and make you cough? Does it stick to the soles of your shoes? Does it put you in front of life's Pilates without an answer because the answer is so obvious — yet so hard to explain — that you choose to let the silence speak?

   Or have you, like most of the people on Flight 50, pulled down the window curtain and let someone else create your reality? And have you done this simply because a flight attendant told you to? Oh, there's truth here, but it's someone else's truth first — if it ever is ours — and it's as far above the ground as I am right now.

   I was on the ground once. I traveled this great country in a sports car with a backpack strapped to the trunk. I took back roads in Georgia and talked to old men at country stores. I drove by belching factories in Detroit and camped under the stars in the pine forests of Tennessee. I hiked the craggy mountains of southern Texas and slept on a cliff over the Rio Grande while a

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full moon rose on my left and a full sun went down on my right. And the dry wind chapped my lips.

   But now my lips are smooth. The air is controlled in this plane just as the experiences are. Compromise has been laid upon compromise until my last touch with my heart is this one small window — a porthole of truth — and the defiant woman who guards it.

   Cheer the woman. Stand in front of the screen. Open the curtains. Scream. Do something to wake up before we all fall asleep watching the movie on Flight 50.

Chapter 30  ||  Table of Contents