By Ray Tetz —
The elderly couple in the airport boarding line behind me are worried about being in the right line. After listening for a few minutes, I turn and suggest that since he uses a cane, he could probably pre-board and avoid the line entirely.
“I hate doing that,” he says. “Like getting the senior discount, it’s a little bit embarrassing.”
“Nah,” I say. “It will be so much easier for you. And believe me, every person in this line is trying to figure out how to get on that plane first. Just go for it.”
He musters the smallest possible smile. His wife grabs her bag and heads towards the pre-boarding area. He looks at me with something like resignation. “Here we go,” he says.
Here we go, indeed. There is an Australian couple just one row in front of me that don’t much care for flying. I know they are Australian because of their accents and his t-shirt. I know they don’t like flying because of their hushed and worried conversation, clearly about the airplane and the particulars of the safety card. The man gets a small stuffed Winnie the Pooh wearing a safari hat out of his carryon and stuffs it into the seat pocket so Winnie’s head and hat are sticking out and looking at him. He finally settles back in his seat and looks intently at little Winnie. “Here we go,” I want to say. “Just ask that guy over there with the cane in the overhead who is adjusting his hearing aid. He knows all about it.”
A woman traveling by herself is worried about her suitcase. She is trying to rearrange all the other bags in the overhead bins to make room for hers. A man with a slightly pained expression stands up to help her. He is still wearing his coat and tie, all buttoned up and neat, and has suddenly been transformed from a seriously preoccupied road warrior to a SkyHop. He pushes the stuff all around, trying to make room, with the woman directing his every move. Victory! The overhead door closes. His pained expression gives way to a grim little smile of satisfaction. He has made a friend for life—or at least for the rest of the flight. The pair start to talk, and he takes out his phone to share pictures of his grandkids. Learning forward to see them, the woman’s smile is genuine. Here we go.
There are only two empty seats on the plane, and one of them is next to me. I feel very fortunate. The woman in the aisle is very pleased as well, and starts to array her possessions for easy access in the half of the middle seat closest to her. She looks at me briefly to see if I mind. I smile, just enough to show that I think we are both lucky. It’s all right. Here we go.
I have my earbuds in, and I am looking out over the wing at the clouds and the Arizona desert below us, ignoring the folder of work I optimistically brought along. It is a Friday, and I don’t feel much like working. I feel like looking out the window. Maybe doing a bit of writing. The light coming through the window is almost white, and reflects off my hands resting on the tray table. My fingers shine, too.
I gather around me the unexpected sanctuary that the seat has become. Even the steady hum of the engine seems far away. “Here we go,” I repeat to myself. “We go.”
I like to imagine that everyone on this plane is going home to someone they love. Or perhaps they are off on a great adventure they’ve been planning for years. There must be some very important reasons they all got up this morning and assembled in this place, this plane. I don’t really want to know all of those reasons on this particular flight; I usually don’t. I listen to Neko Case sing that old Harry Nilsson song, “Don’t Forget Me,” the one he recorded over a weekend with John Lennon. They’re both gone now, but the song is still here.
And I’m still here. Sitting in a window seat in the exit row, an empty seat beside me. A book half-read and time to reflect. How cool is that?
Out of habit I fold my hands and lower my head, and from the corner of my eye I notice my seatmate softly smiling. Not at me, particularly. Perhaps she has also found her sanctuary. She takes a long drink from her water bottle and leans her head back, silently closing her eyes. I start to read my book.
I hope everyone on this plane is headed home. Because here we go.
Ray Tetz is the director of communication and community engagement for the Pacific Union Conference.