I like flying – in large part because air travel is one of the few environments these days in which I get uninterrupted blocks of time. Flying somewhere means a solid couple hours where I’m left to my own thoughts (I rarely talk to people on airplanes). It’s a good time to think, to pray, to read and write. On my last trip – from Washington, DC, to Texas, and back – I couldn’t even listen to music because I stream everything on my phone. And so silence; the dull, roaring white noise of engines and pressurized cabins and snoring – cruising along the jet streams at hundreds of miles an hour.
The takeoff and landing create a healthy bracket of perspective for the time alone because they remind me of my smallness and relative insignificance in the world. Even just looking down at a single city or neighborhood, I can feel it – thousands of homes and cars and stores and people splayed out below. That’s the world, and oh, what a tiny niche I have; what a meek little slice.
And yet on the other hand, flying compresses our sense of space and time. It shrinks the world down to our palm-sized GPS’s. In five hours I can go from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles and barely see the 2,300 miles in between. I can traverse an entire content in the comfort of air conditioning and padded seats with orange juice served to me. That’s a remarkable feat of innovation and communication and engineering, and I’m thankful for it because I can see my family after just a few hours of travel time and for the cost of just a few hundred dollars.
But all the same it strikes me as a profoundly unnatural phenomena. As I take off and look down, I try to remind myself not to forget the bigness, not to grow bored with this world, and not to despair when it feels like I’ll never make much of a difference in the city below.