Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A new year in the air

This year I celebrated the start of a new year suspended in air. I guess that explains the cheap price of my plane ticket. I got an amazingly good deal by scheduling my return flight to Africa over New Years. Apparently other people don't like to do this: To start the New Year with a group of strangers, in an airplane cabin, the most of impersonal places...a place where you can lose all touch with reality. A place, where everyone tries desparately to pretend they are somewhere else...anywhere else. Much like a doctor's waiting room.

Or perhaps it is the ungrounded nature of the whole endevor. How can you say you started the new year in the air... Somewhere between Amsterdam and Nairobi? They didn't even tell us where we were when the clock struck twelve. They did announce the arrival of the new year over the intercom. There was a polite round of applause in the airplane much like the half-hearted clapping at the end of the movie. In a movie theater the applause always seems a little strange. It is like at a real theater, but there is no one on the stage, the screen's gone black...who are we applauding? But at a loss for what else to do, we applaud. And so, the passengers on our flight politely applauded, as darkness passed by the miniature windows, and we strained to look down and determine where exactly we were beginning this new year.

I kind of liked it. Well, let me clarify, I hate flying. On a flight I live in perpetual tension, waiting for the bump that signals the beginning of the end. I can't sleep, I can't read, my movie screen is invariably broken. And if they haven't fixed their movie screens, imagine the other parts of this plane that they haven't fixed! The beginning of the end...

So somehow, I enjoyed my flight over new years. Perhaps it was because it was towards the end of my journey, hope was beginning to dawn again. But there seemed something poetic about it. Talk about perspective. Perhaps this year I can start the new year with a correct view of the world. One in which I am very small, and the world seems to function perfectly fine without me. One in which you fly into the morning and the world is spread before you, covered in gentle pinks and blue. One in which the world looks peaceful.

And then you land. You know that thud when the wheels hit ground, and the sudden squeal of brakes and whooshing of flaps? That is always my favorite part of the flight. Even though it is probably more dangerous than all that time when we are soundlessly flying through the night and I was holding my breath. This is the time when the brakes might fail, when some obstacle might be on our runway, when we might find ourselves landing in the wrong place or swerving off the carefully prepared runway. But I love to hear all that noise, the groundedness of it. In the end, what freaks me out on airplanes is the surreal nature of it all. It just isn't normal. The plane is too quiet, we seem to be flying through space with no effort at all. This just isn't possible. Life is loud, and unwieldy, and I never make any progress at all that isn't full of bumps and jolts and chances to swerve off course.

So it was a nice way to start the New Year, with the gentle quiet of perspective, and the world spread out below me. But as for me, I've landed now. And I can definitely hear the squealing of brakes, the whooshing of flaps and all the chaos that this world entails. But still it is good to be on the ground.

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