Finding Hope And Grace On The Landing Strip

I don’t like to fly. There’s just something unnatural about strapping oneself into an uncomfortable seat and hurtling across the sky at 35,000 feet. Each bump, turn, seatbelt prompt and varied engine whir unsettles me. What’s worse, we are stuffed like sardines into those pressurized canisters of recirculated bad breath and stagnant air. And there’s always one screaming kid.

On one flight, as I tried not to envision a fiery nose dive, a nervous woman next to me asked, “Are the engines supposed to sound like that?” My perverse sense of humor considered, “No, that’s the sound of engines cutting out before the stall.” But I took pity on my fellow aviophobe and reassured her the engines were fine.

Travel means growth

Air travel today is one of the safest ways to get around. Despite my trepidation, I force myself to fly so that I don’t miss out on the opportunities of life. My wife, who is a more experienced traveler than I, has helped me a great deal. Whenever I try to talk myself out of a trip, she brings me back to reality. As a result, I have flown to study landscape painting several times in Idaho. I studied writing and blogging by flying to Franklin, Tennessee. If one wants to grow, one cannot live under a rock.

Flying requires a good deal of waiting. Waiting at airports for connecting flights. Waiting for take off. Waiting for hours in the air before the flight is over. Waiting for landing and arrival. Once the Ativan kicks in and I relax a bit, I have found that all this waiting allows for reflection about flying, airplanes and people.

I have studied the diverse people on planes and in airports. So much humanity of varied ages, sex, nationality and personality. All with different destinations, dreams, families, jobs and futures. I have also studied the many different planes at airports. Like their passengers, airplanes have their own destinations, body types, peculiarities and stories.

Planes are like people

Can you imagine the stories that planes could tell? About nervous flyers, close calls, magnificent flights and worldly experiences. Like people, airplanes sometimes have turbulence in their lives. They have schedules to keep, places to go and responsibilities. They must take their jobs seriously, for they carry precious cargo. Much like a mother carrying her baby. Or a father driving his infant in a car seat. And like people, planes eventually retire and grow old.

One of the world’s largest airplane “boneyards” is the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona. It is here, where the dry climate limits corrosion, that over 4,200 military aircraft have retired. Their parts are scavenged and engines stripped for reuse. They have become shells of what they once were. No longer air worthy, all they can do is sit with their memories. Not unlike old folks in retirement homes.

Their maiden flights and distant travels are behind them now. The many souls lifted into the clouds to sunset horizons have long forgotten the reliable planes that carried them. The world moves on. Newer, upgraded and fancier jets have emerged. They continue to edge out their aging predecessors, like new employees to replace the retired ones.

The uncertainty of life

Of course, some planes never made it to the boneyard. They were struck down in war, suffered mechanical failures or crashes. The same is true with people. Some are struck down on the battle field. Others suffer medical events or accidents. Air travel, like life, can be uncertain.

Comedian George Carlin once cracked,” If black boxes survive air crashes, why don’t they make the whole plane out of that stuff?” It would be nice if the world was completely safe. If there were no accidents, medical emergencies, pain or suffering. But perhaps the sweetness of life would be less so without the comparison of loss?

Perhaps the turbulence makes us appreciate the miracle of flight that much more? As American journalist Alexander Chase put it, “Lovers of air travel find it exhilarating to hang poised between the illusion of immortality and the fact of death.”

Hope and grace

Every time I take a flight, my favorite part is the landing. Some people hate it, but with each descent I feel the exhilaration of having overcome my fears. I also feel the anticipation of reaching my destination and the journey ahead.

My least favorite part of flying is the take off. But I grit my teeth, close my eyes and hurtle forward anyway. Because doing so moves me closer to my goals and a life well lived.

With each landing I experience the hope I have for the future and the grace in knowing that I am alive, living an artful life and pursuing my dreams. Soon enough we all taxi to our final hangar or boneyard. The key is to soar skyward, for as long as our engines and wings allow, and journey ever higher, over the great landscape of our lives.

(Note: This post was written before the recent, tragic air crash in France. Never the less, I still believe in the message behind this post.)

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