I think flying is miraculous. I love looking out the window at the world sliding by. I love the feeling of weightlessness. I love the whole experience.
Flying also reminds me how vulnerable and transient my life is. Most of the time you don’t notice the subtle forces that affect your life. You don’t notice the threats and powers that hold you in this tiny space between the miracle of life and the inevitability of death.
I like to think I’m in control, that I decide the direction of my life. But there’s something about being driven through the air at hundreds of miles an hour by a total stranger that shatters this illusion.
Growing up my father was a pilot so I learned a lot about flying. I learned that the smoothest part of an airplane is just behind the wing. I learned that because flying is disorienting, a pilot must always trust her instruments. Most importantly I learned that taking off and landing are the most dangerous parts of any flight.
Because of that last fact, every time I fly I find myself preparing. As we pick up speed, I wait for the wings to lift only to be slammed back down. As the plane floats down, I wait for the wheels to skid sideways and the inevitable explosion that will engulf my last moments.
Flying reveals the truth. In the air you feel each shift of the wind, you sense you’re in a situation far beyond your control, and you realize that all you can do is surrender and enjoy the ride.
But you don’t just find this with flying. Your life is always like this:
You can always feel the subtle shifts of wind, both in the world and in your mind.
You are always being transported through time and space somewhat out of control.
Your life is always caught in this delicious tension between ecstasy and death
It’s just too raw for most of us to pay attention.
Flying can help you remember this. It can remind you that life is fragile, ephemeral, and miraculous.
Next time you fly, close your Kindle, pause your iPod, and look out your window. Feel the weight of the plane lift off the earth. Watch as the world shrinks beneath you. It may seem surreal, but being deeply present often feels strange, because we spend some much time outside of this special place.
Let your next flight be a space to remember how clear and precious your life can be.