Thoughts from 35,000 Feet

Flying over puffy clouds that look like giant cotton balls and, below them, the patchwork quilt farms of the Midwest is almost surreal. On the ground, fields like that are so impossibly endless but from 35000 feet they're minuscule. From up here, everything looks like it's standing still; even huge cities stand motionless, frozen. All you pass by doesn't look real, it looks more like a painting. Or like someone took a photograph. Or like someone paused a movie as the scene swept across open fields. And you almost think the whole world has paused while you're zooming through the sky, because you feel like you're stuck in limbo. You're in-between one place and the next, not here and not there but approximately 1500 miles between both your starting point and ending point and, three hours down, you still have two and a half more of sitting in this seat and staring at your hands or a TV screen or a book. But, realistically, the whole world is not put on pause every time a plane takes off. Modern innovations and travel being somewhat of a normalcy, air traffic is almost on a level of highway traffic and, with all the planes in the sky right at this moment, that'd be a lot of pausing. We'd never get anything done. How many planes actually are in the sky right now? And how do we not see other planes flying while we're flying? Have I just not noticed?


It's somewhat unsettling that you can't see people from your height. Clouds, most certainly; fields and cities, yes; but people, to you, are now invisible. Similar to atoms that compose all you interact with, the people inhabiting all the land you pass over are microscopic and thus too small for you to see. You know they exist, or, you assume they do. You know there are humans existing on earth because you are one and you are surrounded by others but what about everyone else? Perhaps after your mother dropped you off at the airport, she drove home and watered the garden, pet the cat while watching tv, occurrences you would've normally witnessed. Perhaps two kids are watching your plane gently drift by from a field of grass in a park somewhere, but you can't see them. Perhaps a young man, walking to work some blocks away from JFK international jetport, involuntarily peered upward as a loud plane took off. But you can't see him. And if you can't see them, are they still there?


It's a scary thought but it seems all too possible that everyone you know could have vanished while you're flying through air in this metal tube and you would have no idea. In a society where it's only natural to grab your phone and message a friend or scroll through your Twitter feed- a simple, instinctual act that simply and immediately verifies the existence of others; you are suddenly unable to do so and thus wonder what you're missing. Anything- any catastrophe or miracle- could be happening right now and you have no way of knowing. Are you blissfully or anxiously ignorant? It's exciting and terrifying to feel you are, albeit temporarily, separated from all you know and are a part of. Your friends could be at the mall or seeing a movie but you have no idea because you're strapped into this seat, staring out a window at what you believe to be Missouri. All those millions of people below you and around you are all living their lives and you, in a way, are watching all of them from up here, unbeknownst to you or them. How many people do you think you've flown over since you took off? A million... or ten million? Half a billion? You are traveling coast to coast and that covers a lot of ground. So many people and you can't see them. So many people and they're all living their own lives, functioning as their own little entities, and aren't we all? Aren't we all singularities, occasionally pinballing into each other only to break away again?


The clouds really do look pretty. From your usual standpoint on land, you only see the undersides of clouds. At an exhilarating 35000 feet, clouds look more like sculptures. Looking more two-dimensional on land, they now appear completely three-dimensional. They're more akin to cotton ball collections or peaks of whipped cream. Maybe a spoonful of yogurt or marshmallow fluff. The innards of a teddy bear or couch cushion. The clouds somehow seem smaller from up here, quite possibly a result of their playful appearance. At the pilot's announcement of possible turbulence due to avoiding thunder clouds, you wonder how something so beautiful could ever cause harm. You used to wonder the same thing about humans.


Is it possible to get used to this-- this being thousands of feet above everyone else? Perhaps people who fly more often somehow settle into this feeling. Or do they just not think about the pretty clouds and all the people below them, all living separate lives? Are they blissfully or anxiously ignorant?






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