We crossed under the gate in the chain-link fence and onto the tarmac, which was dotted with small planes. The day was clear and filled with a low wind, and that spot on the earth was open and so clearly a point of ejection into everything surrounding it. The sky was blank and ended only with my sight.
Ours was lone and well-worn, and he circled it with discernment and determined love, fatherly and shrewd. This was the vessel, after all, in which we would be reading the laws of nature and reinterpreting them for ourselves, flight as man’s elasticity clause. I don’t think he had ever even set eyes on this particular plane, but he approached it with a confident familiarity that had become itself an instinct after so many decades of ascent, fingertips running over each flap and edge, the counterweights pressed upon. He drew fuel samples from beneath the wings like blood into a syringe, holding them to the light.
Humanity is truly beautiful when viewed from above. There was a time in my life when such sprawling suburbia would have made me shudder, would have disgusted me with its sterility and sameness. But on this day, as we lifted off of the short runway painted between the mountains and the town, the fixtures of the landscape vibrated with life.
I am reminded of sonder, a neologistic description of awareness outside of the self that appeared online some years ago, “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own . . . with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.”
This is but a pretty way to say that we are only ourselves, and that the vast majority of existence is out there, so obvious to us in theory but unfathomable in touch. To float high enough to see the horizon but low enough to count cars is to look into thousands upon thousands of lighted windows at once. We took off and landed eight different times, circling the borough in the same path over again, and with each pass I saw the same parks, the same houses, the same intersections, and I saw them morph entirely in short spans of fifteen minutes, places rolling along with the motion of the earth.
I think about my own motion and my own stresses, two jobs and a social life and the necessity to play Tetris with my days, my hours, even my minutes, endeavoring constantly to fit them in as perfectly as possible within the limits of my calendar, without any overlap, with all space filled. I think about the balances that I need to strike just to endure, and the balances of others, and the incredible ways in which we fit our pieces together, triumphant over complexity, persevering within the vast arrays into which we are born, the minimally waged and the uninsured, the forlorn and the unrequited, the loved and the blissfully content. And isolated as a single point in the sky, still tucked in safely by the clouds above me, I felt such a part of the world, not above it but nestled deep within.