From the Plane

By David Kessler

I don't usually have installments written before returning home, but this one hit me like a ton of bricks and was done before my connecting flight to Glasgow boarded in Heathrow’s Terminal 1.

No sharp opening line for this installment, but a quiet and unexpected breath full of beautiful calm.  I booked this trip in hopes of having just such a moment - several of them, actually - as I walked though the Scottish Highlands.  This past winter and spring were hectic times, and after several months of telling myself that I could relax and treat myself once I got through the next project or two (ever moving and self-replicating goalposts), I found I was just continuing my frenetic pace and manner into the summer.  So I figured out where I could slip this trip in between this and that set of responsibilities.  Did I say that I "slipped" this trip into my schedule?  No, I carved out these weeks with a blunt chisel and hammer; I needed a breather, and put my faith in Scotland's ability to smooth me out and make me happy.

My pressed pace continued right into the airport and through the security checkpoint to the gate.  As I sat down on the plane I was surrounded by men avidly discussing golf and real estate regulations across the rows of seats in overly loud voices.  They were jovial 50-somethings, unconcerned with being considerate to their fellow travelers, or even to each other.  When the cabin lights dimmed the man directly in front of me put his seat back as far as it could possibly go, making it difficult for those of us for those of us in the row behind him to get out to the aisle (Hey, Boeing, that's bad design).  When his friend sitting next to me asked me to get up so he could get out, I suggested as I did that he ask his reclining friend to tilt his seat a little less to help us out.  Instead, he simply grabbed the seatback and used it to pull himself through that narrow gap into the aisle - waking his friend up suddenly with the jarring jolt of his seat being pushed and pulled about.

I was exhausted, but a little sleep got rid of my headache.  I awoke to the sound of a movie playing in my neighbor's headphones and thought I'd watch one myself.  Dramas with technicians sweating over bombs as the timer ticked suspensefully toward zero - Action movies with guns and chases and explosions - the sweat and bad breath of my neighbor - no space on my tray table for writing because of the extreme angle of the seat in front of me - a dry cough making its way randomly through the cabin the way that 1 dog's bark will set off another down the street...  The video display (difficult to read, again, because of that fully reclining seat it was mounted on) told me that it was midnight back in Boston; 5am in London.

I got up and walked down the narrow aisle to the back of the plane where I could stand up straight and even stretch a little.  From there I looked over the 16 rows of my section of the plane, and that view took me out of the slightly sour mood I was in - it was surprisingly beautiful.

Just a few people had their reading lights on and the rest were lit only by the pale, glowing of their individual video screens: Red and shimmering for Chicago; Brown and grey for Harry Potter trailers; Green for airspeed and temperature displays; Blue for the flight progress maps.  Each screen emitted its channel's color scheme.  These colored light shows weren't enough to illuminate the cabin substantially, but turned the curved seat tops and passengers' heads from individual objects into silhouettes connected by their edges and orderly arrangement like a mountain ridge with the last of a sunset behind it.  Above this ridgeline the glow quickly dissipated into the surrounding dark of the cabin, which had a faint and dusky blue tint from ambient light bouncing off the dark carpet.  Over all were the regular latitudinal lines of the ceiling panels, just visible in the amber and red glow of the equally regular no-smoking and fasten seatbelt icons that looked down at the entire scene like constellations in a night sky.

Each screen's colors danced and shifted, and was mimicked by the random pattern of which other screens in the cabin were tuned to the same channel.  The combined effect was that of being in a planetarium watching a collection of individual galaxies constituting a universe.

The gentle white noise of the air conditioners inside and the wind outside enveloped and cushioned everything.  The tranquility of the scene when viewed from its outer edge was at once calming and funny.  2 rows in front of my seat a passenger had tilted his seat back as far as it would go, causing the passenger 1 row in front of my seat to do the same.  My seat was tilted back half-way, the seat behind mine slightly less...  I returned to the narrow view of my seat, but could still see this cascading pattern in my mind's eye and so, found that I wasn't nearly so annoyed anymore.  I breathed with an easier, fuller cadence than before.  I felt refreshed and happy, eventhough I was still was over a thousand miles West of Scotland.

A good trip already.

B.A. flight #214, seat 44D.  6am London time.

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