Time and Space in the Passage Place.


There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
–T.S. Eliot

The Greeks saw time as a two headed monster: chronos, which is the moments ticking by, and kairos, which is the moment, the “aha” sledgehammer of revelation. Funny how one you count, the other you live. Chronus is the abacus and the sliding of beads; kairos the realization of self–and yet kairos takes a back seat to chronus in life as in flight.

Unless you fight it. Let me explain.

Here comes the god Chronus. The price of jet fuel is up 3.3% this week, up 9.6% over last month, and a whopping 26.3% over December of last year–with the price of oil rapidly rising as we speak. My life–and your flight–is counted in air nautical miles per pound of fuel; ANPP, as we call it.

I don’t care about gallons, because they mean nothing in the lift equation, which is what gets our eighty ton freight train into the air. I don’t care about dollars as much as I do minutes, which is what moves us from here to there.

Can’t argue with physics, chronus’s relentless thug. And while I know can’t forget chronus’s digital constructs of “now” and “then”  orchestrating the results of “where” and “when” . . .

. . . I have his relentless data stream from a dozen satellites crunched by another dozen on-board processors populating the abacus with characters accurate down to a ridiculously small margin, claiming “here is where and when you are breathing out and in.”

He’s got a picture for those who would track us, constructed from the ionic backscatter bounced off our riveted hull and scooped up by a scythe-like radar arc sweeping relentlessly, converting us into a dot inching across a black glass pancake.

And he has a cartoon for me that converts our 160 bodies of blood and bone into a white triangle on a magenta line, ever forward-facing, with a numerical count of the seemingly silent action of our passage.

And if it weren’t enough to reduce sky and earth to formulaic characters interacting in sums and differences, the twenty-first century chronus presents me a with a combined image of both the digital abacus and the dirt below–all in one cyber-mirage.

“See?” barks Chronus, dog that he is. “Wasn’t I right all along?” Yeah, he’s tidily accurate to within a few feet, even after a few thousand miles aloft. As if that were all that mattered: the counting of the beads. The passage of time. Like the passage itself didn’t matter. You just sit there–I’ll drag everything by you, tell you what you need to know, never mind seeing or the gods forbid, being.

And that’s exactly where chronus is a liar and a thief. He wants to bottle you up like a genie inside your head. He wants you to overlook your own being in favor of a place ahead or behind; he wants you to live in the “then” and forget the “now.” Use your head and not your eyes. And this is what he’d have you do:

Pretend you are elsewhere. Not notice the “here”–be all about “there.”  The time between here and there is of no consequence and in fact is best left alone or if need be, avoided with the deliberate distraction of Inflight Entertainment or digital connections (chronus has ‘em, right?) that reach beyond where you are (inflight wireless connections!) in favor of where you wish you were. He’ll tell you that what matters is solely what you can quantify, what you can calculate, what you can reduce to figural representation.

What a crock. He has no soul.

What chronus would desperately like to hide is the reality that your time spent in passage is a passage itself. And like poetry, that’s not something you’re supposed to “get” –it’s what you’re supposed to live. Kairos is all about the eyes and the heart–not the mind and the head.

It’s the burning lip of death on the horizon, as the day heaves a last sigh that endures for a thousand miles through a long, long flight hour. Would be convenient to ignore the approaching sunset–hard on the eyes, isn’t it? But it’s underway regardless, a portent of the future painted in our “now.”

It’s Arizona sneaking into New Mexico on the dragon breath of a west wind, looking more like an uber-pastel than a omnivorous cloud of stinging dust.

Or consider–and look (LOOK HARDER, my T-38 instructor pilot used to say) at the aquamarine jewel embedded in the jagged Sierras.

Doesn’t cost you anything–give it a long look, and contemplate the deepness of blue, above and below and ahead. And aren’t we lucky, miles above the wall of thunder beating up the plains states right now? Enjoy: this is included in the price, because it’s not just the passage of time or miles–this is your life cruising by with the hands of the clock. We’re way too fast for the storms, but of course, not the clock.

But for kairos, that’s less important. In the moment of revelation, of living out the beauty of the passage, the limitations of time and place mean little.

But missing the moment means everything.

Flight–like life–is the intersection of kairos and chronos, and the trick is to balance the two: one endures, one is simply endurance. If you can’t tell the difference, or if you can and just need a reminder, it’s time to fly.

If you look–if you bother to look–the revelation is there for free: flying, in passage, where you really ought to “be.”

*****

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves

Combing the white hair of the waves blown back

When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea

By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown

Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

–T.S. Eliot

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17 Responses to “Time and Space in the Passage Place.”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Airplane News. Airplane News said: Jethead Says: Time and Space in the Passage Place. http://bit.ly/eTiDJv [...]

  2. Nice blog, sir and some world-class pix. A fun read all around and Thank you. More frequent (OK, if shorter?) posts would be more fun. Still, I well understand that you have a life… . Happy New Year, Captain. Fly safe and carry a little extra gas in bad weather. The Self-Loading Cargo appreciates it.
    -Craig

  3. [...] of paying attention and living in the now, you should check out a recent post on the Jethead blog. It’s about appreciating the wonders of the journey rather than being exclusively impatient [...]

  4. blackwatertown Says:

    Just lovely. I’ve pointed to it here http://blackwatertown.wordpress.com/2011/01/05/blink-and-youll-miss-it/

    I take Craig’s point about shorter more frequent posts – it’s a point I’m trying to take on board myself – but in your case, the lulling rhythm and length of your posts seem strangely appropriate – and in keeping with your message.

  5. Just keep them coming Captain. The’re a joy to read.
    A very happy New Year to you and yours.

  6. Beautifully poetic, Captain. Thank you for the reminders to stop, take a deep breath, and look around. We can sometimes miss so much.

    Like the previous poster said, keep ‘em coming… :)

    Giulia

    Now we will count to twelve
    and we will all keep still.
    This one time upon the earth,
    let’s not speak any language,
    let’s stop for one second,
    and not move our arms so much.
    It would be a delicious moment,
    without hurry, without locomotives,
    all of us would be together
    in a sudden uneasiness…

    (Pablo Neruda)

    • Beautiful–reminds me of a dry land Derk Walcott. I sense that you’re a literature prof, which is kind of intimidating. Thanks for reading–and sharing.

      • No…no…just a Grade 6 teacher with a hungry soul. :) I love words and the magic you can create with them.

        That’s why I say, thanks for the posts…and-of course-for the backstage pass into the world of aviation. :) Love it!!!

  7. Jesus Calderon Says:

    Hi Chris! I heared about your blog at the airplane geeks podcast which I always listen to while driving from home to Barcelona airport where I work as an atc.
    Thanks for shareing your view of your amazing job in such an appealing way! Keep up the great work, safe flights and happy new year!

  8. blackwatertown Says:

    Did you hear about the coffee story? http://wp.me/pDjed-FS

  9. Hello Captain, you get all the gold stars for your pictures, your “God of Time” is quite beautiful!!!!! tell me are fireworks just as beautiful from 30 thousand feet as they are from flight level 0 ?????? looking forward to your next lesson”) misstwa)because I really do miss TWA Airlines)

    • Welcome, and thanks for reading. Actually, fireworks look like tiny pinpoints from the air. It’s kind of fun to fly west to east in the evening on the 4th and watch them flare up like little sparks from below.

  10. i also think taking off and landing on those midnight flights would be spectacular!!!! I appreciate your answer, safe flying Captain!

  11. Bruce Starkey Says:

    Captain,
    Let me say that I appreciate your insight into the cockpit. I want to thank you for taking the time to relay your thoughts and comments into this very interesting narrative. I really enjoy it. I want to say up-front that I too am an American Airlines employee. I work on the flight planning system in an aircraft performance perspective. Please keep these stories coming; I really do appreciate them!
    -Bruce Starkey
    Operations Engineering

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