About a month ago, I was on a red-eye flight from Phoenix to New York. On my left, a 20-something-year-old art student from New York whose only goal on that flight was to sleep from the time we left the gate until the wheels touched down on the tarmac at JFK. In front of me sat dozens of passengers in various stages of dozing off. And behind me, in the last row on the plane, a young boy, maybe 4 or 5 years of age, sitting alone (though rarely wanting to actually sit) and heading to meet his aunt from The City.
Throughout the flight, the young boy’s eyelids did not even droop a bit. Though he quietly observed the blackness from his window seat for the majority of the flight, every now and then he would let out a loud cry of excitement. “Oh, wow! I can see the clouds! We are in a cloud right now!” The exasperated middle-aged couple to my right eyed the flight attendant with indignation. “Excuse me, young boy, please try to be quiet. The other passengers are trying to sleep, ok?” the flight attendant pleaded. The boy replied in a loud whisper, “I know, but we’re flying!”
I could not help but feel a sense of envy for the way in which this boy saw the world. In his eyes, the state of flying in a plane in the sky was one of the most exciting things to have yet happened to him, an event generally considered mundane and a waste of time by the majority of regular passengers. I imagined that most things the world considers boring, he probably found to be exhilarating and I felt a bit jealous of that.
A month later, eager to return home from Tanzania, I boarded KLM flight 571 at Kilimanjaro Intl. Airport. I located my seat, 35G, an aisle seat on the far right of the center row. In 35F sat an older woman in her mid-60s, I would suppose. “I cannot believe this! These are not our seats!” the woman proclaimed. “We selected aisle and window seats on the website in May and now we have center seats!” The woman asked if I would be willing to switch seats with her husband who had been assigned seat 35E. I replied that it would be no problem. I generally do not particularly care where I sit as long as I am on the plane and my duffel bag is as well.
When I finally got situated and the plane left the ground, the older woman continued to demand of the flight attendants an answer as to why her seats had been changed. The flight attendants obviously had no power in the situation and I could not help but feel sympathy for them as she was wont to making their lives miserable.
When she finally tired of making her demands, she sat in her seat and asked, “Why do we have to go to Dar es Salaam anyways? We are going to Amsterdam and this stop is in the completely wrong direction.” I replied to her that it was because the flight from Kilimanjaro was not usually a full-enough flight and it would be inefficient for KLM to have two separate flights for Kilimanjaro and Dar es Salaam. Why not kill two birds with one stone?
I turned to the woman on my left with whom I had been conversing and told her that I was happy to be going in the wrong direction because every mile south we flew towards Dar es Salaam would be the furthest south I had ever traveled in my life, even if it would be by plane. I was also excited because Dar es Salaam is on the East coast of Africa and even though the plane would be enveloped by the black of night and I would have no window to look out of, the thought of being that close to the Indian Ocean, a body of water I had not seen with my own eyes, would be quite cool.
On the flight home, much of the time I spent either not reading Twain’s The Innocents Abroad or watching Good Will Hunting, I spent staring at the map of the flight path, showing our exact location in the sky above the Earth. At one point, I marveled at the fact that we were directly above the city of Alexandria, about to cross over the Mediterranean Sea. Flying over Europe, I wondered what cities and villages, ancient battle sites, and intimidating mountains we were passing over. And then it hit me. I realized that I was basically the little boy on the first flight from home. Here I was, thrilled about things that had probably not crossed the minds of most of the passengers on that flight, but that would have certainly also thrilled that young boy. And I could not have been happier than to have known that.
I hope that I live the rest of my life as the young boy. I imagine that the older woman probably once had the attitude of that young boy, like I think all young children do, but she let life change her attitude. I am determined to not let that happen.