Flying. Over Interstate 80 East.

fly,plane,jet,window,clouds,photography

It’s 8:00 am Friday morning.  Delta flight 466, a non-stop to JFK, departing at 8:30.

Hordes of travelers mill around the gate — all restless, anxious, and shifting from one foot to the other waiting for their zone to be called.

With no status on this airline, my concern rests with available overhead bin storage capacity. My shoulders tense up. I will cram this bloody carryon bag under my seat to avoid checking it. 

158 seats are taken on this 160-seat Boeing 737-800.  I see space in an overhead bin at the front of the plane, and suffer the stares as I jam my bag between two others. I know this is against First Class rules. But, go ahead Lady. Say something. Grab this Tiger by the tail. I’m operating on 4 hours of sleep, and just itching for confrontation. Go ahead. Give it your best shot.

The middle seat to my right remains open. Passengers continue to board. Could this be my lucky day? Or…Not? Could he or she be an armrest hog? Take frequent bathroom breaks? Bring a pungent and messy burrito on board for breakfast? Listen to music blaring from earbuds? Have a drippy nose? Body odor? Be doused in perfume? Nosy? LEANER? TALKER?

She was lanky. I would say about 5′ 10″. In her late 20’s, or early 30’s. She was wearing a fern green colored top with faded Levi’s. Her hair was pulled back. She carried a small handbag which she tucked under the seat.  She settled in and folded her hands on her lap. She sat with her back, bolt upright.

I adjust my noise canceling headphones and dial up Arvo Pärt.
I’m through the NY Times and moving on to the Journal.
We get above 10,000 feet and I log-in to wireless to get internet access.
I start chopping through my email cue.
I turn on the in-seat television to monitor flight status.
I pull out decks from my case to get a jump start on projects for next week.

It is a four hour flight.
We are two hours in.

I don’t look. But, I can feel her presence.
No book.
No smartphone.
No iPad.
No newspaper or magazines.
Her hands remain folded on her lap.
Her back, remains bolt upright.

The stewardess approaches with the cart.
She asks for water. No ice. Refuses the other offers.

I return back to my work, gnawing on my pretzels.
But I’m distracted. Unsettled. Uneasy.
Her presence is filling the cabin.
Her plastic cup sits on her tray table.
She’s motionless.
I decide that I need to steal a look.
Could she be sleeping?
I turn to my right, she catches my stare.
She smiles, we make eye contact for a split second and then we break it off.
Her hands remain folded in her lap. Her back, remains bolt upright.

I look out the window.
There’s puffy wisps of clouds below and the bluest of blues in the heavens above.
An Arvo Pärt piano solo streams into my headphones.
It was Pärt who said that “Silence is the pause in me when I am near to God.
I focus, on the pauses between notes, they pull me deeper, and deeper and deeper inside.

We’re one hour from touchdown.

Her hands remain folded in her lap. Her back, remains bolt upright.

God or no God Mr. Pärt, she is certainly something bigger than me.


Notes:

Alternatively, people in such places stare at their phones or open a novel, sometimes precisely in order to tune out the piped-in chatter. A multiverse of private experiences is accessible after all. In this battle of attentional technologies, what is lost is the kind of public space that is required for a certain kind of sociability….A public space where people are not self-enclosed, in the heightened way that happens when our minds are elsewhere than our bodies, may feel rich with possibility for spontaneous encounters . Even if we do not converse with others, our mutual reticence is experienced as reticence if our attention is not otherwise bound up, but is rather free to alight upon one another and linger or not, because we ourselves are free to pay out our attention in deliberate measures. To be the object of someone’s reticence is quite different from not being seen by them; we may have a vivid experience of having encountered another person, even if in silence. Such encounters are always ambiguous, and their need for interpretation gives rise to a train of imaginings, often erotic. This is what makes cities exciting.

~ Matthew B. Crawford. The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction

Comments

  1. Making the best of a situation….

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Michael Zahaby says:

    We need (pray) for more of her, than those that behave as if they were in their own living room

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A slim, young woman in silence. The weight of her must have been enormous.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Mrs. P says:

    Every time I board a plane I wonder what the experience might yield. I have met every type of person you mention, except for the smelly perfume lady.

    I wonder if I am going to entertain myself, sleep of become completely engrossed in conversation. The first few minutes rarely give a clue…but more often than not the ride becomes interesting.

    I have sat with famous producers and we chatted the whole trip. Not about what he did but what I did…education…and he was fascinated. I sat with an Air Marshall who not only told me their life story but also pointed out the other Marshalls on the plane. There were three. This was ten years ago. I imagined how boring ones life could be just flying on airplanes and pretending to be a passenger. But the pay was good and the job beat his earlier job as a correction facility officer in a state penitentiary.

    My favorite flight was one in which I made a lifelong friend during a weather delayed flight. I sat next to two Peruvian students. As I listened to their Spanish dialog I could see that she was a highly dynamic sassy young lady, drop dead gorgeous and I immediately fell in love with her being. For a time, I just sat and enjoyed her bursting enthusiasm. At one point they began to study and I saw aviation charts. Curious, in my broken Spanish I inquired if they were studying to be pilots. Thus began a new chapter in my life with two students who were studying to become helicopter pilots so they could go back and fight the drug wars raging in their country. I have since then attended their graduation, met some of their families, and they mine. They have since returned to Peru and have left an open invitation to stay with them when I come visit.

    The return flight, simply boring. I was so tired from my trip that I fell asleep and as I caught myself drifting off I prayed that I would not snore. For I have heard that unhuman sounds emanate from my being…and I just didn’t want to be that person…not today.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Simply amazing! David you manage to find magic in so many area’s. The mind is a powerful thing. I know that I have imagined many things about people sitting next to me on a flight but sometimes after striking a conversation I learn that I may have been wrong and sometimes regret speaking at all. Sometimes it is better letting people remain in our imaginations.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Really beautifully done…

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Now I’ll spend the rest of my day wondering about her……

    Liked by 1 person

  8. beautiful!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. WMS… 😊😊😊

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Doing vs. being. Interesting how the peace of just being tends to expand. Great writing as usual, David.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. the weight of silence is feather light and palatable.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I just got off a plane and had a head banging rocker sitting next to me listening to very loud music. Quite the opposite experience I would say! Her silence made you uncomfortable, and considering it was a 4 hour flight you would not be alone in that …. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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