My dad introduced me to “plane landing” as a metaphor for the sense we get with others when we face transition, especially endings. When the pilot finally comes on overhead and asks us to set right our seatbacks and traytables – buckle in tight – I get this little sense of anticipation and relief, and the tiniest nudge that it’s safe to start talking to my neighbor, if I haven’t yet. We’ve had a unique shared experience. If everything works out, we may never see each other again. Anything I’d like to say?
I heard a story about two people who met in an airport, and after ten minutes, one felt strangely inspired to ask if his new acquaintance would let him share a confession. They ended up spending hours together there, in that especially never-the-same-river-twice space, while the man set right his life, and then took flight for God knows where. All they had in common, when they left home and headed for the tarmac, was a ticket on the same day.
Aren’t these anxious, awkward moments, sitting here wondering what to do with our limited remaining time together? What might we have in common? Will we wish we’d said more? Will we regret opening our mouths? What if we say, or don’t say, the right thing, and then end up in a long cab ride home together? What if later, coincidentally, they’re a cop who caught me speeding or an interviewer I need to impress, and the main things they know about me are I’m irritated by babies, read bad magazines and can sit stone-faced through We Bought A Zoo?
There’s something uniquely terminalesque about the place I live and work, but to some extent we are all making these landings all the time, recognizing our impermanent circumstances, our unique relational opportunities, and deciding what we’re willing to risk. Sometimes I just want to be at my destination with the ones I bought the ticket to see, and am tired of negotiating the armrest.
I love the observation that when we travel like this, here we are, sitting in the sky, doing nothing but waiting as comfortably as we can while having nothing to contribute to the operation or mechanics of this big metal tube. Air travel: unimaginably amazing, and one of the most mundane days imaginable.
We don’t have to steer, or row, or flap, or anything. We just have to fill a pre-ordained and inalterable period of time. When we do talk, it’s rarely of aerodynamics. Funny that, at my least social, I’m likely to only make eye contact with the people on board I paid to smile at me. But then, when that slight tilt of wing and drop of stomach signals the end is nigh, I’m suddenly more willing to speak two words with the person I’ve been knee to knee with for the last four hours.
It’s amazing that I find myself so dissatisfied with options to fill the time in a tube packed with intersecting stories. Or even, if I’m working my Introvert, to enjoy myself while only interrupted for free drinks and snacks.
Here we are, hurtling through space, by no effort of our own. What can we do while we wait?
Prayers today for those ready to land on the other side of finals, or struggles, or fears. Prayers today for those who find the flight itself unnerving, who, maybe more than most of us, understand how strange it is that we would trust enough to do it. Prayers today for those who find it difficult to move past the inconvenience to the miracle that we are here at all – any of us.
May we offer our traveling companions our attention and compassion, and give thanks for the amazing coincidence that we bought these tickets. May we see them in such a way that we’d receive them for the miracle they’re part of, and the essential role they play in getting us where we’re going. May we release ourselves from any obligation to will this flight accomplished. May we arrive in one piece, if not altogether whole.