like a woman bears a child,
with all her might."
- Ani DiFranco, "grand canyon"
Spin Away, World
The world spun away for a time. I was so worried about getting through airport security — not because I'm a security threat, but because I must have my name on some list somewhere by now, with all the protests and peace vigils and poetry I've got under my belt — that I hadn't spent any time on the idea of actually flying. But I've been so busy looking at the sky lately, the moon huge and low in the twilight month after month, the clouds roiling over gray autumn horizons. I never stopped to think, really, that we would be flying. And then there I was, sleep-deprived and half-jazzed on compensatory caffeine, buckled tightly into my narrow seat in a tiny box of metal and plastic, each uneven crack in the runway's pavement jostling under me.
"Once there was a farm..." the airport billboards read along the moving walkways that we danced and jogged and stepped backwards down for a sense of levity and play. And now, an airport on some of the only flat land in the city, sprawling out in an even-armed cross of shops and bars and shiny things on the wrong side of security gates that moved you so fast through an assembly line of strip-down-and-scan that you were left on the other side — on the inside, now — hastily bundling your coat and bags into your arms, shoes half-on and shuffling off disheveled to look for a place to collect yourself. Instead, on every side were fast food signs smiling neon and drug stores slyly offering to sell you the things you weren't allowed to bring with you. Too much to take in. I admit, there are times when I'm sick with consumer culture. The rows of gunmetal-gray seats of Gate 82 were a relief, and the windows looking out across vast stretches of macadam crisscrossed with worn painted lines. Then, we were boarding, our seats on the Emergency Exit aisle, with only tiny windows to see out of, a view of the wing stretching away from us. And we sat patiently, as we taxied this way and that along the pavement, the rough patches jolting beneath us, the air inside the plane already seeming stale and cramped to my lungs.
But I wasn't nervous, even then. Not really. It felt like an unnecessarily tightly-built bus, was all, and I held my hands clasped in my lap and blinked my tired eyes and waited. We were at the end of the runway, cleared for take-off, and the little plane's engines burned and the noise, the humming and throbbing high-pitched ringing, intensified — and we were screaming down the concrete, faster and faster, but not fast enough, it seemed, how could we possibly go fast enough — and I waited for the lift, for the sense of being lifted....
It never came. What came, instead, was pressure. Enormous, amazing pressure from all directions, a pressure that sped up my heart and my breathing and confused my eyes, which saw nothing change in my surroundings, the sides of the plane, the seats, the ceiling, everything still just where it was, where it had been. But we were screaming, tearing away from the ground by sheer force of humdrum ordinary will, and it seemed for a moment as if the whole blessedly belligerent life-force of the human race was pouring into my head, pounding down through me, so that I was drunk with our arrogance and triumph — we were in the air, we were gods-be-damned flying, and there was nothing above us but sky. And all of us sitting passively in our little cushioned seats, our seatbelts fastened, tray tables and seat backs in their upright and locked positions, like our spines, our minds, our wills, we were all of us right there, plunged into the thrumming, whining ordinary reality of pressurized air thousands of feet up. And nobody else seemed to notice. But my palms were wet with sweat where I gripped the metal armrests, and when Jeff pointed out our tiny oval window, I forced myself to relax before looking, and try to breathe. I whispered a prayer and felt the firm, round stone of peace nestled in my solar plexus. And then, the world spun away.
The wing dipped as the plane turned, and below us was a view of the ground, the land rolling away, all spotted motley browns and ruddy shades of trees and fields in the winter and fog. And, if I had a thought at all, it was only, "That's the land," or maybe "That's the land from above." Then obscured by wisps and thick drifts of clouds lit, beyond comprehension, from behind us. I couldn't have said exactly what it was that caused it — the beauty, perhaps, or the persistence of nature, or just the rushing back of gratitude and humility — but I began to cry.