Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Some tardy (non-acting) thoughts on the Fourth.

They look so small from up here. Smaller even than you'd have thought.

Yeah yeah I know. I gotta back up.

Perhaps because it's an expectation-free holiday, I have a fondness for the Fourth of July. I love Christmas, too (I am the Christmas Ho, after all), but we want Christmas to go a certain way. The tree, the gifts, the music, we need it all to be just so; for Christmas, we even make requests of the weather (snow!).

But not the Fourth. You can go to a barbecue, or not; head away for the weekend, or not; gather with family or simply stay put. Up to you.

Me-- well, you know. I love fireworks. Love 'em. But this year I'd decided to head to LA for the weekend, and the return fares on the Fourth itself were simply to cheap to pass up. Since arrival in JFK in time to make a fireworks display would have meant leaving LA at an ungodly hour, I decided to gamble on the next best thing: a late afternoon flight that, if the route was right and the weather held, just might put me over some fireworks. It'd be a new perspective, and fun.

We push off fifteen minutes late, have a long taxi (TWO Delta flights get the call in front of us! Why? Why??), and aren't wheels-up until almost five. I curse American Airlines as I feel my plan slipping away.

But I do have a tendency to struggle against trusting in Faith.

The sun sets as we cross the Rockies... we clear a cloudy stretch... and we're somewhere over the Heartland (Iowa?) when I first see it: a small cluster of lights which can only be a town. (Thanks to the pervasiveness of the Sodium-Halogen streetlight, there's a distinct look to urban areas, even minor ones, from up here.) Then, just off to one side... there... no bigger than a single spark from a sparkler, really, so small I'm not even sure... until there's another. And this one's red. A tiny bright pin-pop that quickly fades.


And I suddenly ache to be there, wherever There is: some baseball diamond, some fairground outside of the town, sitting on a blanket, looking up at the night. The town's now sliding underneath the wing and out of view, but no matter: here's a slightly larger town, and over there, another... and if you let your eyes sort of... drift... these tiny, colorful puffs dot the land below. Pop, fade. Pop, fade. Happy Birthday, America. Happy Birthday, us.

Now, an incredible turn of good fortune: in the distance but coming up fast, Chicago! What are the odds? A major city, at just the right time-- and on a clear night! I'm gonna get my Big City fireworks after all.

I notice two concentrated bursts that are busier than the others --the big displays-- but, funny thing: from here, they're not that much different than the smaller ones. Not much at all. Still I watch, for the Grand Finales will be impressive, surely. And they do get a bit brighter... but then they simply stop.

I settle back in my seat. I'm depressed, a little, let down, a little... but there's something else, a thing I've felt before; a vague feeling of what I can only call profundity that's making itself known. And since I am a religious person I believe that to be the gentle nudging of God.

"Oh, come on, what--" I think, "can't I just sit here and feel depressed?" Fine. OK, Universe, I'll bite: what am I missing? Think, Peter.

Personally, I go back and forth on the whole There Are No Accidents concept. But tonight, well, the timing could be chalked up to chance (but that delay at the gate...), the clear sky, to predictable weather patterns...

...but the good stuff outside the window is NEVER on my side of the plane.

So. I got the Big Show, like I requested... but from up here, there really wasn't much difference...

Ah. Got it. I'm a little slow sometimes, but in the end I get it.

It's one of my great flaws, see, this Wishing I Was Somewhere Else. And I can imagine myself on that rural baseball diamond, pining for Chicago (or that plane flying way up high), not appreciating what was lighting up the sky right over my head, losing the moment while not realizing that, depending on your seat, that change-everything difference isn't such a difference at all.

Which leads to: is it like this about everything? Beauty, wealth, accomplishment? When you're Up Here, far enough from it, do all our seemingly-important differences grow narrow? All these distinctions we measure by, and value so highly-- success or failure, rich or poor, hot or not?

And I wonder if this is how it will be when we Depart: a flight that doesn't follow the curve of the earth but flies straight, soaring off while behind us everything slowly... fades. What's that? What kind of car did I drive? From up here you can't even recognize cars. (Although a bit of practical advice from a lot of night flying: have bright headlights.) So, maybe, none of this matters so much.

No. It's this: ALMOST nothing matters. For as I think on it, I come back to where I always come back: love.

I'll miss that a whole lot. I wouldn't have a panicky urge to claw out of my plane just to jump back down to get my car; I'd want to get back to the people. Sure, I'd want to experience a little more. But I've experienced plenty. Really, I'd want to feel a little more. That's what I'm gonna miss.

None of us have taken that particular flight yet, though we all have a reservation. But we already know that the feelings won't fade. As for the rest... perspective.

So, Universe, thanks for this-- and, ya know, worth the Holiday flight. A new experience, and a lesson learned.

But next year, I'm going to a Big Show.