From my airplane window seat I am struck as always by the sudden remoteness of the world as viewed from above. Looking down at my own city, at the streets and trees familiar to me most of my life, I recognize nothing, all the humanizing details of the locale invisible from the sky. Inaudible too, as no bird song can be heard over the blare of the jet engines, no rustling of leaves, no waft of music from a passing car stereo.
And I think as always how easy it would be to get lost, either by accident or on purpose, in a landscape as vast and remote as ours, as viewed from the sky. I feel too a little lost already, searching the ground in vain for a sign of the known. It seems at any moment the plane might drop me into this strange landscape and I must find my way, but on the ground, in my nightmare, the streets would be as flat and foreign as they look from the sky.
We expect to feel this alienation in travel, and I both savor and dread it. To break from the familiar and surround myself with the new gives shine to both the new and the familiar: upon return the sights and smells of home are twice as sweet. In this middle place, between home and my destination, the sight of the flat anonymous streets I should know gives me a quiet chill.
But I am going toward a home, one of mine: the company of a childhood friend and her new baby. The visit allows me many pleasures, one of which is to stare out of the plane window, feel the chill. Another is to complete a kind of happy circle offered sometimes in life: my friend and I were in diapers together, so to marvel and share and abide through her daughter's diaper time together, even if only for a weekend, is a satisfaction.
There is a neatness to this completing and continuing, but there is a sense too that we have survived the vastness I see from the plane window: we have not gotten lost from each other. Through this time and others, we each will be a light on the wide, cold landscape by which the other can navigate.
In class this week are writing about the places, people, items, tastes, sounds and experiences that make us feel a deep sense of belonging: our "homes". Most students take to this topic easily, which I think must be a hopeful sign: they are already girding themselves against the chill.