I remember trying to count the number of airports I’d visited by the time I got back from Asia last spring. A quick calculation added up over thirteen airports in four months. Then I started thinking about all the other places I’ve flown over the past nineteen years. New York, Seattle, Portland, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Orlando, Chicago… I must have taken over fifty flights in the past decade. Some of these have been with friends, some with family. But a startling majority of them have been alone. I have spent many dawns rising with the sun, many nights slinking across the coast, and many meals sitting at a gate with a cold piece of pizza in one hand and a boarding pass in another.
But it could never grow old. There is not a time when gliding across the planet at thirty thousand feet stops feeling magical.
THINK ABOUT IT.
You’re in a giant floating ship. Strapped in your seat with your elbow bumped against a smudged window, sharing space with strangers. Babies make noise when their ears pop and there’s a glow, even when the lights are dimmed, from the screens and phones and booklights. And on this fourth or sixteenth or thirty-seventh flight of yours, someone is looking out that window for the first time.
Maybe it’s a little boy, with salty pretzel fingers and a red cranberry juice rim around his lips, pointing at the airport tower shrinking beneath him. Or a seventeen-year-old girl, with her iPhone in hand, filling the camera roll with fifty seven photos and ignoring the book in her hand.
The sky is changing, as always. One moment it’s blue, overwhelming with its hundreds and hundreds of small, floating white clouds all around. And when the sun hits the clouds they sparkle, and you’re in the middle of an ocean, surrounded by an innumerable amount of islands. The plane becomes a ship, bobbing in the blue.
And some nights the sky is a swirling cotton candy machine. The clouds are pulled thin and sugared with pink around you. This time it’s a wade. With each mile you’re pulled through the color, cradled in the cotton. There’s nothing like an electric bubble gum sky. The jagged tips of mountains form cones and you want to scoop it all in your hands. But your fingers are cold against the window, nothing like the warmth outside. It’s a wade, but it’s a treat and you taste it all inside.
How many shows has the sky put on? When was its opening night and what were the first reviews? When man first stood audience beneath a tree, watching the light turn orange behind the leaves, did he dream of a front-row seat? Grandmothers have grown old rocking their chairs at night while children have stretched and grown and searched and named the stars. Clouds have taken the shapes of bears and tigers. They’ve attended afternoon tea parties from thirty thousand feet and given shade to hikers on blistering days. Boys and girls have fallen asleep under a moonlight canopy on a cool cement ceiling and stars have formed and died and sometimes moved. For millennia, men have explored and fought and changed and conquered, but no one has touched the sky.
Who was the first man to dream of floating in the clouds? Some children imagined they felt like cotton, light and squishy beneath their fingers. They made up stories about men in the moon and floating balls of cheese and chariots pulling the sunset. But, night after night, who stood among them? Who but God enjoyed their show?
After centuries of time and thousands of failed and successful experiments and lives, you’re here tonight. Brushing the clouds, scoping the earth. Two thousand years ago, men fell asleep with their chins facing the stars and right now you’re just beneath them. How many nights did God look down at sleeping man and know you’d be the one to see this? Billions in the grave and you, small person, in the sky.
THAT’S THE MAGIC OF FLYING.
It’s not just the sun glitter around you. It’s the fact that you are the person who gets to sit here and see this. The sky has been this beautiful since the beginning of time, but for thousands of years humans have missed out on the wonder that is flying in the clouds. You will die just like the others, but you have lived to see so much more of the world. You have felt the pressure of soaring. You have seen cities grow small and large and passed castles in the sky.
Your plane is cramped. A bald man is snoring and the pretzels are making your mouth water and the seat belt light is on. You’ve been through this a thousand times and yet, remember its newness. What you have here is a gift that men have dreamed and built and fought for.
A pink sky is just a sky. It’s a sunset high above us that casts warmth onto our earth but merely covers us for a moment.
But, in a plane, a pink sky is your entire world. An engulfing, sinking, burning experience that few have been allowed to see. Take this piece of the world and treasure it. You are an adventurer. You have found a new world that is yours for just a moment, and it is glittering and blue and pink and wide and high and good.
Enjoy the pink skies. Enjoy the long flights.
Enjoy the wonder that is flying in the clouds.
P.S. I made a little playlist of what I like to listen to while in a plane. Take a listen the next time you’re on a long flight, are feeling a strong urge of wanderlust, or just want a little piece of the magic that flying brings…