by Josh Huber (Episcopal priest)
When I get on an airplane—first waiting in a vague anticipatory clump with strangers for my group number to be called, then in a line to scan my boarding pass, then in another line to duck through the straight and narrow of the boarding door after which I may or may not be able to stand to my full height, then squeezing myself and luggage through first-class’s smugly wider aisle to the real scrunch of economy, then coaxing my patience as I watch other passengers problem-solve spatial relations at the speed of slow death, then wrestling my own carryon into the overhead bin and my personal item under the seat in front of me and cramming all my angles into the neatest cubic foot Tetris bend I can manage—I try to remember that all these squished and bent souls flanking me could be the very last I encounter on earth.
I could die with this lot.
Sure, this is true of anywhere one gathers with strangers. Gas leaks, shooters, earthquakes, fires, pressing crowds, structural failures, errant eighteen-wheelers, bombs, chemical spills, trees falling, weather, very angry bulls or boars or bears: it’s not too hard to imagine. But in a self-contained steel and plastic cylinder packed with bodies and shot six miles into sheer atmosphere, imagination presses against you, occasionally kicks the back of your seat, glares at you lightning bright through the open window shade, caterwauls around you as clear and crystal cracking as the screaming child three rows back.
Truth is you don’t understand what keeps the whole apparatus aloft.
On the ground again, I sit chewing, bovine stiff in one of the terminal’s many plastic seats facing the runways of O’Hare International Airport. I am trying to calculate how many tons of steel, hurtling how fast, with how many folks aboard to somewhere impossibly up.
I figure, if you take away the planes, have our bodies do the exact same, they’d name us gods for sure.
It must be the order then, the mundane procedurals, the everyday regularity—row on row of tamely-buckled passengers prepared for takeoff—that obscure the marvelous wildness of it all.
These planes are angels, stiff-winged albatross, poets scribbling across the sky, long half notes roaring past the natural rests.
Maybe we are simply over-accustomed to motion. The world we’re on spinning 1,000 miles per hour as it hurls its spherical self in orbit more than 1,000 miles per minute all within a solar system racing through space 1,000 miles every seven seconds. And our galaxy’s clip is even more frantic. And the universe impossibly expands in places outpacing light.
I stand, stretch, spit out my gum, and turn to scout the gate for my next flight. I arrive in less than 1,000 steps. All around me bodies move–above the tarmac stacks of beatific saints ascending and descending.