Halfway From Yesterday.
The world from cruise altitude seen from the flight deck is a lie: looking straight ahead, it seems as if you’re suspended motionless miles high, floating. Neither here nor there, it seems, and there’s the illusion–in reality, you’re crossing the dirt seven miles below approaching the speed of a shotgun blast.
That’s the world between here and there and really, I think it’s less obvious if you don’t spend as much time there as I do. Sure, we’re all in the same jet, but you’re between wherever–and whomever–you just left, and who and whatever it is you’re going to see. The flight just gets you between the two points.
Not me. The flight is the point, and there’s much for me to do as a result: I have a radar beam projecting 300 miles off the nose, then bouncing back to show me what’s ahead. I can plan a turn to avoid the troubled sky bearing down on a city, promising us a bumpy ride and those on the ground a nasty afternoon. Rush hour’s going to suck down there, I think to myself, dipping a wingtip gently so you’d almost not even notice in the back, but easing us south of the coming storm nonetheless. The space between your “here and there” is my crystal ball, knowing and seeing from miles above what those on the ground can’t and what would be the point? The weather’s coming anyway. Ground life has no wingtips, no motion. Roots.
We find stuff for you to do while you’re aloft in the rootless space from here to there that means little to you besides being the quickest way in between. Even the seats in the cabin all face forward, as if reinforcing that we’re all going “this way.” And the time enroute is divided by events planned mostly for that purpose: flight attendants and a serving cart will appear in the aisle and go from front to back.
Why? Because front to back, that’s how you can see “the show” or the event that’s breaking up the time because really, the event is ceremonial: two fingers of a beverage and a couple ounces of a snack, just enough to put food on your breath and create the illusion of having eaten. The cart moving back to front?
That would actually make more sense, less distracting but then, that is the point: like my ten-year-old on a car drive, there needs to be islands of distraction like the DVD player, iPod, cell phone and a stop at Sonic (Cherry Limeade!) somewhere along the way between here and there.
Which is fine when you’re ten, but I learned a valuable point from an elderly couple seated with us at dinner on our cruise. “We don’t plan ahead,” Florence told me, speaking also for her octogenarian husband Stanley, “If we are well enough and able, we just go and do.” That’s because, I realized, in the here and there of life, they are closer to the far end. The time between is all they have.
But the secret, like the illusion of flight, is that the time in between is all any of us has. Some, more than others. Some less, yet no one, ten or eighty, can really see as far ahead as I do enroute with the magic of radar. But in a lifetime, no one gets the miles-high God’s-eye view of whatever is bearing down on a city, ready to make rush hour a nightmare for those between here and there, work and home, between work week and weekend.
And so the calendar becomes the itinerary, with weekends and vacations the waypoints in between. Weekdays are life seated in rows, the illusion of snacking on a tray table facing forward, confirming our heading ever towards the “somewhere else,” farther away from wherever we were, as fast as we can get there.
That’s the illusion of “in between,” like the view from the flight deck: floating motionless high above it all, as if “now” were a place and not an instant, rocketing forward toward Flo and Stan’s perspective like a shotgun blast. Why the hurry to get there? Moreover, what about whatever time there is in between?
Florence’s philosophy makes perfect sense on a cruise ship: it was all about the time in between embarking and getting there. Actually, “there” wasn’t really the object anyway; just a fun waypoint or two, island distractions, and in fact a bridge officer once told me there were a fleet of cruise ship like ours motoring in circles so as to be underway, even though we were practically at our next port of call. The main event was the sailing, the formal nights, the lavish food, the entertainment, the beverages, alone time together.
The journey between ports was what mattered. I’m sure the captain using the bridge radar could even see the next island, but wanting to provide us the smoothest and longest sea experience the cruise brochure had promised, prolonged the rootless time afloat nonetheless.
The calendar is the map between yesterday and tomorrow. The speed of passage between the two is really an illusion, because no one really knows how far ahead the calendar stretches. Like Flo, I need to go and do when and while I can. Just looking at the calendar, and considering weekends and holidays and vacations, I have to admit there’s more ocean than islands.
We’ve made air travel into an endurance contest between here and there. Ditto the calendar, with barely enough space to breath, no leg room, scant time or availability of decent food and water, and the need for some distraction so as not to notice the hours waiting to “get there.”
Maybe it’s inevitable. Maybe it will always be for you about the far end of the trip. I’ll get you there, I’ll look ahead and make it smooth, and do all I can navigationally to make it as fast as possible in between.
Me? Like Flo, I’m going to try to make life more about the Cherry Limeade with Darling Bride and our sweet ten-year-old. Never mind the highway, which ain’t really going anywhere. Never mind the calendar, too, which puts us halfway from yesterday and most of the way to tomorrow. Instead, I’m going to inhabit the momentary roots of now while I can. If we spend our time wisely, maybe we can miss rush hour all together and just cruise.