I saw something enormous and glowing out in the ocean
It was long and golden, glittering and industrial. I saw while in flight, from a cruising altitude of tens of thousands of feet. Looking from my vantage, first I saw nothing in the sea but the soft white reflecting of the moon, shimmering on the surface in long pale smears.
Suddenly a man-made glow appeared in massive profile, immensely far and toward the southeastern horizon.
From this height and at this vantage point the ocean is an infinite and unknowable black expanse. I envy the view that the pilots must enjoy — on a clear night they are spectators of the all-encompassing oblivion — the great abyss. For a while at least.
From my doubled-paned porthole I steal glances downward, though I see mostly cloud. I wonder briefly if humans eventually grow accustomed to the distance and the sheer scale of the earth and our distance from it. Is it possible to be entirely at peace knowing we are but a speck of dust on the face of an entire planet? As introspective as a single flight makes me, if I flew every week I’d collapse into myself.
Which brings me to the structure I spotted in the sea. Some sort of large shipping vessel or an oil rig or some other such creation. Do the men who work it feel lonely in their supposed isolation? The concept of being out to sea — it is reminiscent of an era long gone. Even now in the middle of the vast Atlantic there are satellite phones and radio waves and connectivity, I’m sure. Is it possible, anywhere on the planet then, to be truly alone?
My life is anything but remote
I live the opposite life, and so I wonder most deeply about those contrary. I’m fascinated by the self-imposed exile, the intentional distancing from the rest of humanity. Even a pilot, who when arriving to work courses through the teeming arteries of global travel, seals themselves away in a small container with one other person for extended lengths of time. My world involves leaving my home and entering into the streets to work with a building full of people, brushing shoulders, constantly communicating. I interact with humanity as a way of life.
This is all to say that flight is not only a way to connect us to the rest of the world, but to give a chance to observe so many of the ways that we all choose to live. From the other passengers on the plane, to the crews, to the airport staff and to strangers sleeping on the floors of darkened terminals. Out of the window we might see golden fields of wheat or mountaintops or the surface of the largest known body of water in the galaxy. (Yes, I know that’s the Pacific and that I am over the Atlantic)
These moments are just that, though: moments. These are not our lives or our family or our friends any more than the other drivers in a traffic jam are. They are just other witnesses to the temporary, the coincidental conjoinment of human life. But while it may be an artificial environment, it is still an opportunity to connect, even if briefly and even if superficial, to others who are, at the end of the day, just like us.