By: Scott Taylor
He’s one of those who knows that life is just a leap of faith.
Spread your arms and hold your breath and always trust your cape.
My ticket said seat 30E/Zone 9. I was part the last group to board. This was my reward, I suppose, for purchasing my ticket at the last minute. I walked the narrow path to my seat near the back of the plane. Of the group of three seats, I was in the middle. The passenger in the window seat was already absorbed into his airplane mode electronic universe (in a rather Huxleyan manner). The passenger in the aisle seat looked up at me and asked in a nervous tone, “Do you like flying?”
I should have thought longer before giving my answer. I should have tried to understand why he was asking me this question. I said, “Not really.” “Oh,” he replied. He began to explain that he was absolutely, entirely, and irrationally afraid of flying. I said, “Well, when I said I don’t really like flying, what I meant was I don’t really like to being in tight spaces with other people for long periods of time. You know, you never know who you will sit beside.” He fell quiet. I withdrew my book, opened it up, and pretended to read. It seemed that he got the message for a moment. And as for me, I sat in my seat consumed with guilt.
Luckily, my neighbor was not done with me. He began, unasked, to tell me all about why he was traveling in the first place and why he had chosen not to take the train or rent a car and how he was seriously questioning the wisdom of ever getting on this flight. I closed my book.
I put it in the seatback pocket. I turned to him and said, “Do you know what makes a plane fly?” He looked at me like I was crazy. I thought that maybe I was. Even so, I began to explain Bernoulli’s principle (and said a quiet prayer that there wasn’t a physicist sitting in earshot). After Bernoulli’s principle, we moved onto Pythagorean Harmonics – a subject I was more comfortable talking about.
After I had exhausted myself and him on science and mathematics, we talked about our personal lives. Only at this point did we actually tell each other our names. He shared some very personal things about his life with children, marriages, and drugs. I shared my own struggles. There was a freedom in our conversation that one rarely finds on the ground.
He asked at one point, “Do you believe in God.” I told him that I did, though a more honest answer would have been, “Sometimes.”
Around this point, he grabbed the seat in front of him and looked at me as if to say, “What in the world is going on?” I told him we were making our descent into Boston Logan airport and that it would all be over momentarily. Pardoning the cheap pun, I said, “This flight has flown by!” He agreed. We landed. We shook hands and returned to a more grounded version of our lives.
It is so easy for me to want to live the life of the guy in the window seat. Well dressed. On the way to an exciting city. iPad in hand. Bulky noise-canceling earphones that seem to say to any would be companion, “Back off! My space!” It is so easy to want to be innocently ignorant of what it happening right next to him. How safe it is to be grounded.
But, ever since that flight I have longed to be in the air again.