I made a decision that I was going to enjoy today’s flight. I need to be completely honest and admit that the fact that I had accidentally left my book at home was a fairly instrumental factor, but there was nevertheless a Wordsworthian determination to revel in my wanderings among the clouds. It had struck me once more (as it does every time I fly) that if ever one needs evidence of white privilege, it is strikingly obvious in the demographics of those flying. And I decided that instead of being blasé about the flight and making snide comments about the airline food, I would attempt to immerse myself in the miracle of modern flight.
We have become so used to it that we easily forget that only a century ago, this was impossible. I wondered what a person from last century would have felt had they had the privilege of boarding my plane. I am willing to bet she wouldn’t have complained about how long the check-in queue was. I decided then that I would change my attitude. I asked for a seat by the window and fortunately got one. I made sure my Sudoku was completed by take-off (the complimentary newspaper had one and it would just be wrong to leave the poor thing sitting there so incomplete and naked).
It is probably just as well that I was hellbent on enjoying the flight. The plane really seemed to labour up to its cruising altitude. It was not the kind of take-off that would endear flying to the uninitiated. It even briefly crossed my mind that I might finally get to employ all the emergency landing protocols the airhostess (I had always thought rather pointlessly) instructs one in prior to every flight. Then I laughed at myself and continued to look out the window. The flight was bumpy at times – at one point eliciting a gasp of terror from a lady a few rows in front of me. But I smiled. If this was time to go, this was the kind of view I would want to see at the last. I can imagine that the glorious landscape might lose much of its charm when you are hurtling towards it at terminal velocity, but still…
And then, suddenly, there was calm. I allowed myself to get lost in the beauty of the moment. The skies were clear, and below me the view was breathtaking. I sat in awe for the full hour and a half.
In her iconic song, Bette Midler says that “God is watching us from a distance”. I used to think that was stupid. He is a personal and loving God, who knows every inch of my life intimately. But today, among the clouds, her song came to my mind and I knew what she meant. Below me I could see all the scars human activity had left on the earth, evidence of our frenetic daily struggle for survival, and I felt grateful to be above it all, removed from it. There, looking out over the cloud-streaked horizon, my heart touched a kind of peace. The unbearable social inequalities, the intolerance and disrespect that mark so much of South African discourse, seemed dwarfed by the enormity and ageless taciturnity of the landscape. The earth will survive us. In the inconceivably long lifespan of a universe, we – with all the heartache we bring – are vapors in the wind. From a God perspective, there is hope.
I vowed to take Nathan, my son, in a plane one day. Until then, I hope that I never again take for granted the gift of flight. It is something that a very small percentage of people will ever be able to do, and a sobering reminder of how fragile and how precious we are.