Do you remember the first time you ever flew on an airplane?
When just the thought of flying was the most incredible thing you could ever imagine?
You dreamed about getting that window seat, right?
So you could stare out the window of this giant rocket ship with wings, and marvel how it can somehow miraculously defy gravity, lift its massive body off the ground and fly like a bird. To look down on the world from above the clouds. Wow!
I was 13 my first time.
You can picture the scene.
A young suburban East coast kid living in the shadow of New York City manages to claw and scrape their way through Hebrew School to prepare for his Bar Mitzvah (uggh, just the memory!) For the grand prize of surviving this hell on earth experience your parents offer you a choice: you can have a really big party, invite lots of guests and collect a bunch of money or have a small one and they’ll take you somewhere exotic (at least for a suburban kid who never flew before). The hell with the money, you have to take the journey, right? You find out you’re headed to Puerto Rico! A tropical island far, far away. Paradise!
The big day finally arrives.
You get on that plane and marvel at the massive amount of seats sprawling back to infinity. The nifty overhead compartments. You count the row numbers and finally arrive at your seat (YES!! You got the window seat!) How the hell is this thing going to lift all these people off the ground?
Just sifting through the magazines on the seat back pouch in front of you is thoroughly engaging. You play with the tray table and marvel at the simple but highly ergonomic design and how it pulls out to just the right place and folds open to rest your meal upon. There’s even a small dimple for your drink. No way! Wait a minute. What’s this thing do? Ah, you’ve found the button to recline your seat. You can’t resist, much to the dismay of the person sitting behind you. And then…oh cool, there’s a button that turns on a light that shines just for you! Even the flight safety demonstration becomes the best show and tell class you ever sat through. You have to remind yourself you’re 13 and not 6 but who cares? This is way cool!
Finally, after an eternity of sitting and fidgeting with every single button and gadget you can find, you feel the plane lurch backward and realize you’re pulling out of the gate. Just the realization that this massive beast could cruise around on the ground is mind blowing. You wind through the myriad twists and turns taxiing across the huge tarmac when it all finally comes to a stand still. There’s a moment of limbo.
The next thing you know you’re pinned to your seat with your nose glued to the window as the world rushes faster and faster by until suddenly you experience that strange sinking feeling in your stomach as the plane lifts off the ground and rushes quickly upward. Holy shit, Batman! You’re flying!! There goes the ground!
You bank sideways over the ocean and see what must be the Jersey shoreline with the tiny waves of an ocean far below you now, as you begin to level off but are still climbing ever higher. Before you know it, you’re staring down on the clouds that are a non-stop moving picture of ever-changing shapes: that one looks like a blimp. The one over there looks like Teddy Roosevelt riding to victory. It’s the most incredible journey of your life and you remember everything down to the smallest detail as though it were pure magic. Even the little linen napkin that covers the headrests on the seats will be remembered.
But then something strange happens.
You grow up and you think you’ve hit the lottery. You land a job where you get the opportunity to work and travel. You get to fly!…a lot. And it’s amazing…at first.
You get to fly everywhere and do your business. Every week a new city, a new adventure. The hotels, the expense account. Sometimes you’re flying multiple times a week; so much so that eventually you get on the plane and you’ve got a whole routine. The pre-bought snacks go here. The laptop goes there. The headphones get tucked into this side of the little seat pouch. The phone gets plugged in here. The book, the neck pillow thing. You’ve got this down. You always order tomato juice but you’re still not sure why. And you still ask for the window seat. But now it’s because you’re sick of getting up when the woman next to you wakes you up so she can go pee.
By the time you taxi to the runway and the captain tells the flight attendants to prepare for takeoff, you look out the window at a view of your city off in the distance. It’s a view you’ve seen a thousand times now. Then you lower the shade on your window.
You’ve kissed the wife goodbye a thousand times and tell her you’ll call when you arrive. Then you lower the shade on the window.
You tell your kid you’re sorry you won’t be able to make the recital. Then you lower the shade on the window.
You look out on the first snow of winter falling in perfect silence. Then you lower the shade on the window.
You walk briskly past the cherry blossoms in full bloom and into the building where you’re late for a meeting. Then you lower the shade on the window.
You forget to call your niece and wish her congratulations on her college graduation. Then you lower the shade on the window.
Your wife doesn’t pick up the phone anymore when you call. Then you lower the shade on the window.
There’s a sharp pain in your side that you never felt before. Then you lower the shade on the window.
Sooner or later the plane lands. Eventually they’re going to come for you and tell you it’s time to get off. The journey ends.
We all got a window seat.
Didn’t they tell you?
Open the shade.