I used to find flying astoundingly unremarkable. It was just transportation. Yeah, delays can be annoying. The crew will hand out food that will either be kind of good or bad. Usually it’s pretzels, which is a snack I’m neutral toward. All in all, the average person will get to their destination without event.
My most recent flight from Chicago to Los Angeles was following this same, boring trajectory. I found my seat, fished out my iPod and sat patiently as the plane began to lift off.
However, this time I sat next to some guy – old, rugged looking, bearded – pretty unremarkable himself. Then, mid-way through the ascent he nudged me to look out the window and said:
“Man, perspective, right?”
I looked down at the tiny people and cars and houses. Yeah, man. Perspective. Right. Like, thanks, because I’ve never noticed how things get small when you move further away from them.
In an effort to avoid eye contact with him and thus dodge more philosophical gems, I continued to look out the window for longer than I usually do. Perspective Man didn’t bother me after take-off but for some reason, the more I stared out the window, the more his stupid words rattled around in my head.
I got into one of those weird mind-puzzles where I overthink things and, for example, start imagining every person in every household below me: it’s about noon, so some people are just waking up or a guy is running late to his shift at that Applebee’s or suburban kids just had a soccer game and now they’re eating sandwiches one of the snack moms brought or perhaps at that other field one snack mom ordered Subway because, you know what, she works and she can’t do it all or another kid in a different house wasn’t allowed to play that day because he was grounded for stealing candy from his sister or A MILLION DIFFERENT SITUATIONS.
And me? I was on a flight to California, to start my sophomore year of college, mildly freaking out about how many people are alive.
I stayed glued to the window, watching the terrain below me shift and change. True, there was a lot of brownish stuff but also vivid patchwork quilts of agriculture, cursive loop-di-loops of subdivisions and the drunken curves of highways.
Not surprisingly, my interest levels increased as we left Midwestern flatlands and flew into the volatile terrain of the American Southwest. Things were red and blue and mountainous and forested and deserted! All of this in like, five minutes!
Then, I saw the lake. We were somewhere just past New Mexico and in the midst of nothing there was this spring of the most intense blue color I’ve seen outside of Caribbean travel photos. It looked utterly magical. I strained my eyes to fully inspect the area, as most bodies of water attract some type of human life, but I couldn’t find any trace of civilization. Not even a stupid fishing shack. Maybe it’s difficult to catch sparkly-rainbow-flying-hedgehog-fish (which is what I assume live in these waters)? The complete emptiness was unsettling.
Do people know this exists? Has it been documented? Did settlers come across the blue oasis and just go, “Nah! I think I’ll set up shop in a desert canyon instead!”
Perspective Man was asleep next to me but I almost felt compelled to wake him up and ask if he could see the lake too. Perhaps it really was a magic lake and only the pure of heart could find it? Did I just become a character in a J.K. Rowling book?
Alas, the plane continued on until it landed in Southern California and I concluded the first flight where I looked out the window the entire time. Yowza.
I suppose this flight taught me the difference between earth and world. Everyday my world revolves directly around me and my actions and my thoughts and values and restaurant choices. But, those same days, my planet earth is still gigantic and mysterious and full of magic lakes and kids who stole candy from their sisters, and like 200,000 babies being born!
It’s the simplest idea. Our planet is real big. We’re real little. But I think it’s important to feel small and confused and wonder about what someone in Denmark is doing right this moment and to finally not touch your Us Weekly once even if there ARE photos of Beyonce’s baby bump within.
Man, perspective, right?
Feature image via Joe Martinez Photography