Yesterday I flew from Newark to San Francisco, a common occurrence in our age, to be squished into a window seat, reading a book, in this case Ronald Wright's A Short History of Progress, thirty-six thousand feet above the Great Plains, the indistinguishable states white with snow, drinking bottled water -- they tell you to stay hydrated -- watching my fellow passengers doze off, calm and soft as sleepy puppies. We are no nearer heaven than those we've left behind on the ground, but we have entered an atmosphere of expectancy, having begun an adventure, if only to change coasts for a few days, bored as we are with our daily bread, taken in our daily routine, trading the palm trees of San Jose for the red oaks of Jersey.
And yet for some flying all over the country has become their daily routine. We make movies about it, about being lost in airports, having become strangers to ourselves, blurred, out-of-focus, agents of change always on the go. Quist used to say, "You can check your baggage, poot, but not your prejudices, or your unhappiness. Those things you carry with you always." I remember thinking to myself, it's true, we carry them and we cling to them more desperately the further from home we travel. So far from home that home no longer exists except as an abstraction, a mighty fine concept, a locus of untethered emotional longing. Up here, nothing exists save that which I believe, and even that I'm not sure of as I look out at the far ridges of clouds and the scattered contrails of fellow jets. We've come a long way. A fur piece, as Faulkner would have it.
Up here it's hard to be at one with your gravity-hungry body, comfortable inside your skin, contemplating the fragility of life, of the earth itself, sleeping beneath the snow, the lonely planet filled with lonely people. The future eaters. Next to me, a young woman enveloped in drowsiness stares dully at the video screen in the seat-back in front of her. Short dark lustrous hair, a navy blue pea-coat buttoned to the top, long legs in plain jeans oddly angled to the side in an effort to get comfortable. It's a show about Dexter, the nice boy serial killer. Her puffy fingers lie still in her lap, her lips are parted, she has her own set of pink earplugs. She has been sitting like that for hours, softly breathing. We each have our own space. But it's hard to ignore somebody else's attentiveness. Dexter is sitting at a kitchen table talking to a woman, perhaps it's his girlfriend. The actor is good -- his deep-set eyes glisten, it appears he too is in pain.
As you get older, you're supposed to reconcile yourself to the human condition, the sadness of being estranged from your true motives. It feels as though I have fallen through several versions of myself since the plane took off from Newark, almost all the way to California, watching each one carry me only so far. I want to be with my people. I want to be grounded again.