Monday, August 6, 2012

Take Off With Me

I used to fly planes.

That is the saddest thing I ever wrote.

At any given moment there are something like 5,000 airplanes in the sky across the fifty states, but I grew to know one of those very intimately. Every Sunday, for several months, I sat behind the wheel of a single engine 1972 Cessna and defied gravity for one or two hours. The morning would start something like this. I would wake up, walk to the garage, drive my car, and get on a plane. Walk. Drive. Fly. If I speed up that sequence in the context of humanity, I can't help but think about a slick production short.

I took lessons because ever since I was little I wish I could fly. I used to run around the house in red gear and a blue bathroom towel twice my size. I would only be airborne for less than the second it took to jump from one sofa to the other, but it felt good - really good. I actually preferred Peter Parker as a super hero, but I often pretended to be Superman. Not because he was superhuman or from another planet, but simply because pretending to fly was so much more elegant and appealing than trying to climb walls. Or so I thought.

Staring out the window on a flight looking down gave me perspective. It really helped that we did most of our cruising over a lake. It only takes to close my eyes and I can see everything painted on the inside of my eyelids. Imagine the water glistening.  Imagine trees enclosing. See the miniature houses off in the distance. Imagine white boats. See the long, white conical wakes. Imagine random patterns of people in color. And imagine circling above all that. Picture that. These are my flashbacks of flying. Then think of it as much an emotional feeling as it is this visual sketch.

Flying feels like freedom. Freedom from the physical limits of our limbs tied to the ground by gravity. It makes you feel weightless - in your mind. Flying feels like it shouldn't be possible, but it is real. It's like looking up at the stars and fully realizing what it means to be alive and not just to exist - embracing the improbability of it. You feel small and yet you feel important. It feels like breathing, deep, long breaths. The kind that give you the energy to keep going after you think you've reached your aerobic limit. "No, you can go further". What's next?

Most of us take it for granted - the physics of  fluid dynamics, thrust and drag, lift and weight, Bernoulli's  principle - but every time I get off a plane from one coast to the next or one continent to another I can't believe what just happened. It still amazes me how we can switch cultures and time frames and temperatures in a few naps, a few movies on a small screen, a good book, and some bad food. I don't think I'll ever get over it.

Someday I'll get back to flying planes. And then I can redeem myself from having written that first sentence.

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