It’s amusing to sit in the aisle seat on a commercial flight. The passengers walking toward the rear of the plane look so serious, scanning for a potential seat like nervous freshmen checking out the opposite sex at a school dance—wondering if they’ll be accepted or rejected.
I wonder, as an aisle seat dweller, if I have some social or moral obligation to keep looking up and making eye contact with the hopeful, would-be seat dwellers. I feel sort of guilty if I continue to look at my book or write in my journal, as if I’m being stand-off-ish (or is that sit-offish? ). This seems almost metaphorical for daily life, and the ongoing quest to strike a balance between deep immersion in one’s trustiest self and interaction with others.
The whole seat belt instructional ritual is also cause for chuckles. Does anyone really pay attention to this anymore? When I travel with my kids, I believe I pay more attention; there’s a sense of deeper responsibility, that it’s not just my safety which is at stake. The same goes with the oxygen mask instructions. The familiar can become an object of apathy at best, an object of scorn at worst. But there are some moments when it is vitally important to pay attention, even when you’ve heard the story before.
(I heard a flight attendant say the following during the obligatory caution that smoking is prohibited in the restroom: “Please don’t be naughty/And smoke in our potty!”)
There’s also the whole issue of airplane conversation etiquette. How do you truly know whether the person seated next to you really wants to talk or not; whether they are interesting to talk to you in the first place; whether they are really into their book if they have one, or just having it as a way to pass time or a back-up plan in case there’s no decent conversation; and whether they will blow you off if you try to speak with them, leaving you with a damaged ego?
I was surfing through all of my downloaded music on a recent long flight. It’s representative of the process of mentally roaming across the decades of one’s life in a holistic manner. And feeling every emotion, high and low. It’s like time travel while you air travel.
An airplane full of passengers is a container of so many souls. Most of us are strangers to each other, yet unified by the calculated risk of choosing to get on the flight and traveling far above the din of normal life on the ground. There is a distance and yet a closeness between us all.