Before Departure


Life is funny because we’re always focused on big moments. We spend our lives working towards them, for them, fantasizing about them. But some of the most emotional, striking ones are small, miniature, barely noticeable until we’re forced to pay attention.

One of my favorite small moments is when an airplane glides on the ground before departure, when everyone sits, waiting until the vehicle is suspended in the air to watch, listen, or sleep the remainder of the flight. No one starts doing anything until the wings reach the clouds. Instead we pause, still in solidarity, waiting and meditating to the same hum of wheels against concrete. In this brief intimacy I tend to think about the same thing. I think about how we’re all so together, seated inches apart, relaxing into our cushioned seats after a morning, afternoon, or evening of suspended stress, the kind of nervous stomach only settled when the bags are checked and party boarded.

I listen to the child crying behind me and the thought deepens. How when his parents try to quiet him at each whimper and yelp there is some recognition that at some point we’ll all have been where each of us are. Childs, teens, adults on a plane. Surely we were all once the babies and someday we might be the parents. I think about how flustered I might be when I’m 40, tending to my child, worried that we’re interrupting the silence of the passengers around us. And then I’ll think, “Wow, how did time go so fast?” as I recall the flights I took before I had kids. But for now, without them, I look around, and think about the others who might have been the 23 year old sitting nearby, thinking about all of this.

It’s a sentimental force I can’t quite explain that hits me like a rushing river pounding in all directions, one that might appear frightening if you weren’t so amazed or inspired by its energy. It makes me want to cry, when all of it hits during quiet moments like this. You know? We’re all just here, together, doing these things and living these lives. It’s like we’re each playing an instrument, different sounds at different times. In moments we’re able to harmonize with each other. And in other moments we’re able to play something beautiful together. But in the moments where we stop playing, just for a minute, to look up and see it all, the entire orchestra that we’re a part of, it’s almost too beautiful not to cry. I smile as we rocket towards space, or so one might imagine. The seatbelt signs turn off, the man in front of me chooses his first movie, the woman next to me covers her head in a sweater, and the child behind me begins to quiet down.

Onward we go.