This post has been a long time coming, but I just wanted to put a feeling I’ve had for a long time into words. I can remember the second time I ever flew in an airplane, looking out the window in absolute amazement at the world becoming smaller and smaller below me–people and cars and buildings steadily turning into visual ants–while the landscape simultaneously expanded, growing and growing forever. (The first time I flew, as a six-year-old, my only recollection was excruciating head pain while trying to chew gum and pop my ears). At the time, I didn’t know a thing about the physics of aviation (not that I know much more now), but it was simply mind-boggling that I could defy gravity and experience the world as a bird does. Now, some 650 takeoffs and 1.2 million miles later, I must confide that the feeling isn’t much different. The fact that we can still defy gravity in a metal tube, taking off in one corner of the world and touching down in another, is awe inspiring.
That feeling is especially true in places where the airport location offers a treat of a view–San Francisco International and New York’s LaGuardia come immediately to mind–I could fly out of either every single day and never fail to be amazed (pictures of both attached). Yet, with both cities full of road-warrior business travelers, I am saddened each time by how many people I see simply close the window shade before even taking off, completely oblivious to the amazing view that they are missing out on. Of course some of these people probably are on these flights weekly, but we’re only talking about a minute or two, max, before we’ve climbed above the clouds. I feel for all of those first-time flyers who may be missing out because these individuals so consumed with their daily business that they simply can’t be bothered by beauty and imagination.
(I have inserted some photos to demonstrate the beauty I’m talking about, but please scroll beyond them to continue reading.)
A few weeks ago, the Space Shuttle Discovery was “retired” into the Udvar-Hazy branch of the National Air & Space Museum in Chantilly, Virginia, USA (which also happens to be the town I grew up in). It was big news–when the Boeing 747 carrying Discovery was due to land, people all throughout the Washington, D.C. area had literally stopped on the highways to get out of their cars and take a look. The plane even did a l0w-altitude fly over the White House and United States Capitol, just so everyone could get a good look. Once Discovery had finally arrived at Dulles International Airport, the 747 with Shuttle attached remained parked on the tarmac the next day while they prepared to separate the two and enshrine the Shuttle into its new home at the opposite end of the airfield. The 747-Shuttle combination sad in a vacant area, between the second and third IAD north-south runway–a good distance from the terminal. Flying out of Dulles on a near-weekly basis, I’ve noticed that we use the first runway (1R/19L) or east-west runway (30) nearly every time. However, this time, we had the good fortune of taxiing out to the furthest runway (1L), which meant we’d be passing directly in front of the parked 747-Shuttle.
As we approached Discovery, the captain made an announcement that the Space Shuttle would be visible on the right side of the aircraft, and sure enough it was, facing us–no more than 50 meters away from the end of the wing of our little, 50-seater regional jet. While the majority of folks on board scrambled to lift the window shades and contort themselves to get a glimpse out of the small windows, the two men directly across the aisle from me, with perhaps the best view of all, didn’t even flinch. The man by the window didn’t look up from his magazine to touch the shade, while the man closest to me, a tall German with bold features and a hardened face, couldn’t seem to take his eyes off a stack of CV’s he was scouring through. (!!!). It was as if the CV’s were printed with invisible ink that was going to disappear back into the page seconds later if he didn’t get through them. It made me realize that this was about much more than a stack of CV’s–this was probably how these men live their lives. I know it’s wrong, but I immediately made a projection onto their relationships with their girlfriends, wives or children…can you imagine trying to please someone like that?
Despite my twinge of sadness, however, I’m grateful to have witnessed this as another reminder that no matter what kind of pressure I may feel that I’m under in a particular circumstance, I must always make sure that I’m still not oblivious to the beautiful or unique things that I may encounter on any given day.