Maybe it was because I’ve been flying a lot recently and am starting to adjust to it, or maybe it was because I was running on about three hours of sleep. Repetition or exhaustion – I’m not sure why, but as I boarded the plane this morning I wasn’t anxious at all. Wasn’t anxious in that moment when you step off the jetway and onto the plane (and can see the runway below through the little gap in between). Wasn’t anxious as the flight attendants did their little life-vest-and-oxygen-mask routine. Wasn’t anxious when they announced that the doors had closed. Wasn’t anxious during takeoff, or during landing.
Wasn’t anxious, at all, ever.
It was real calm. Not even medicated calm. Not even I-just-did-three-shots-of-tequila calm. Just a pure sense of knowing that I was ok, and that I would be ok. Trust. And, I suppose, faith.
And without the burden of anxiety, I was free to abandon some of the rituals I’ve become accustomed to whenever I fly (as though these behaviors will somehow keep me “safer.”) I chose a window seat instead of the aisle. Took deep breaths instead of shallow ones. For the first time, I was able to simply appreciate the view – and the entire experience – for the wonder that it truly is (we are flying through the air!) I was able to experience the flight as part of the fun adventure of traveling instead of just a hurdle to be jumped in between destinations.
And up in the clouds, I thought about God. Because this is where he lives, I’ve heard.
I never know whether to say God or a god or a higher power or something else, because I’m still in the space of trying to figure out what I believe. But up in the sky today I thought about him/her/it and the possibility of his/her/its existence and what that would mean. For everyone, and specifically, for me.
I have some beliefs about people who are religious, or people who believe, or have faith – again, I’m not really sure how to phrase it, and I’m certainly not trying to be glib or disrespectful. I just don’t have a lot of language to put around this; it’s as if I were trying to discuss my thoughts about nuclear power or space travel. But one of these beliefs is that these people of faith must experience this calmness – this sense of being ok, and protected and safe – maybe not all of the time, but a lot of the time. They know that they are ok because they’re certain that their chosen higher power exists, and has a plan for their lives.
I don’t know if this is true, but this is the sense I get when I speak to these people, and listen, and study them (because I do). And so I wonder: Could I feel that way, too? Could I experience that same sense of calm and of peace that I felt today on the plane in my everyday life?
Today, I had a little taste of faith by wholly trusting this plane, and this pilot. To do this, I had to accept that for the next couple hours, things would be out of my control. I was turning my well-being over to someone else who knew far better than I did how to navigate this part of the journey. But here’s the thing: It’s easier for me to trust the plane, and the pilot. I can see and touch the plane. I can knock on the side of the plane twice, then place my palm on it for one second before boarding – and I do, every time (it’s part of my ritual). I can see and touch the pilot (touching the pilot is not part of the ritual). And I can rely on my knowledge that millions of travelers before me have taken this same trip and have arrived safely. And the knowing of these things satisfies my brain, which is wired (for better or for worse) to always ask How and Why and How Do We Know For Sure?
And that’s where I get stuck on religion, and hung up on the idea of faith – there’s nothing for me to see or touch, and without that tangible evidence, I wonder whether I’ll ever be able to quiet the doubt in my brain and simply believe. Is that even the goal? I don’t know. Can faith and doubt coexist?
I was reading about different religions online – about their belief structures and their means of salvation. A phrase I saw repeatedly was “salvation through faith alone.” If you believe, you are saved.
If I believe. That’s it?
The view from window seat is awesome. I mean that in the true sense of the word: awesome – as in, inspiring great wonder and awe. And in exchange for surrendering control (and relying on faith), I was rewarded. I got to watch as the city below me lit up with the sunrise. As we rose, I watched how the thick cloud ceiling became a fluffy white blanket covering the earth, and how buildings became Legos, then specks. My eyes couldn’t take it all in fast enough. But here was my favorite part: From above, what stands out the most to me is the interplay between what’s man-made and what’s not. The engineered, logical pattern of neighborhoods and roadways exists in the middle of all that’s still wild and uncontrolled – mountains, forests, and rivers that flow however, wherever they please. From up high, it becomes clear which side is really in control.
My reward was the gift of a new perspective. A reminder of the beauty and wonder that’s around me all of the time – even if I’m not always in the right place to see it.