I went flying on Sunday morning.
Hallam and I drove to an airfield about twenty miles away from where we live. It was a beautiful day – clear blue skies, and not a cloud to be seen. After a while a small plane landed gracefully on the short runway and taxied to a stop. Out of it climbed our friends BJ and his son Robert, who goes to school with Hallam. BJ flies his plane whenever he gets the chance, and the previous evening he had been kind enough to invite us on a jaunt across the skies of mid-Missouri.
I clambered in, maybe just a little anxious, wondering whether Denis Bergkamp, who was so scared of flying that he never played for Arsenal in the away legs of European fixtures, maybe had a point. The plane was awfully small. Within minutes we were in the air, gazing down over the grey artery of I-70 as it snaked through the countryside. The land was incredibly green. I was reminded of when I played with model trains as a boy and dreamed of creating miniature landscapes through which the tracks would run. The Missouri River glistened below us, dark and majestic, and we followed it southwards as we looked for our home. We circled the house a few times, staring down at it as if we’d never seen it before. It looked unreal, like a child’s plaything. It was difficult to comprehend that we’d been inside it only an hour or so earlier. The land below us seemed like a whole world away.
After that we zipped eastwards and meandered over Columbia, peering out of the window and identifying local landmarks. It was strange to see these familiar places from a couple of thousand feet up in the air. All those houses – every one unique from the ground – looked identical from up where we were.
To my surprise, being up in the sky was wonderfully peaceful. Contrary to my expectations, the plane rode very smoothly – so smoothly that unless you looked out of the window and noticed that you were airborne, you would think that we were still sitting on the runway. I stared down at the tiny cars and trucks as they crawled along the roads and felt serenely detached – literally above it all. Over Cosmo Park we watched a soccer game, tracking the tiny dot of the ball as it pinged up and down the field and the players swarmed after it. Up there, we were free to go where we liked, to see what we wanted to see. We were not bound by traffic lights or traffic or rights of way. The world below us went on with its business, ignoring us completely. I peered down into people’s lives and backyards, and felt completely invisible.
When we touched back down at the airstrip I wandered around for a bit, unwilling to get back into the car to drive home. The journey back – dodging the usual earth-bound 18-wheelers – was a sobering reminder that real life was still here to be negotiated.
Christina and Catherine were at home. When they heard the plane puttering overhead, they had gone outside to wave to us. We didn’t see them – the trees surrounding the house hid them from view. When we talked about it later, Chris said that it was a poignant moment. When she looked up and saw the plane, she knew exactly where we were, but we had never felt further away. As I looked down at our home, searching for them but not seeing them, I had thought the same thing. The few thousand feet that separated us felt like a million miles.
(PS: This post makes an interesting counterpoint to yesterday’s musings about the differences between boys and girls. After all, who was up in the air and who safely on the ground all the way through this?? Maybe those publishers had a point, after all.)