It’s Friday night and I’m in a Holiday Inn in Houston, Texas. Tomorrow morning I’m teaching a daylong course on wisdom for daily living from the Bible at a large United Methodist Church down the street. Sitting on the runway in Dallas waiting to take off earlier this evening, I groaned to myself as the flight attendant got out the seat belt and began to demonstrated how to put it on and take it off. I’m not afraid of flying. I never have been. I’m just bored with it because I do it so often. I have to think deep, strange thoughts to keep myself from total ennui. Thoughts about how a flight is like the human condition, being at the mercy of forces beyond our control combined with trust in ultimately positive outcomes.
I’ve been on so many flights lately that I could go stand behind the curtain at the front of the plane and deliver the talk and the flight attendant could lip sync. What else have I got to do? They’ve made me turn off my iPhone and Kindle. I can’t concentrate on reading the magazine in the seat pocket in front of me because they are talking so loud. So I amuse myself by wondering if everything they are saying is really true. How do I know I am not being fed a load of unnecessary warnings and false assurances?
1.” Your seat cushion doubles as a flotation device.” Is this true? I don’t know. I have never had the occasion to find out. It seems unlikely to me. That slab of foam covered in dark blue fabric with the little pattern on it,-what’s to say it wouldn’t soak up water and sink me like a stone in the stormy sea?
2.”In case of an extreme change in cabin air pressure breathing devices will descend from the area above your seats.” I believe this is true because a pilot friend told me it was- they call it the orange grove when all the devices drop at once. And because I’ve seen it in movies. But what about the flight attendant’s assurance that “Oxygen will flow through the tubes even if the plastic bag does not inflate?” How can I know this is true? If it is flowing, why wouldn’t it inflate?
3. “Electronic devices can interfere with signals needed for navigation.” (I’m fuzzy on the science of this assertion. I just know that we’re supposed to turn them off and that federal law mandates compliance with the flight attendants’ orders.) Of course I’m going to comply with them- because in addition to serving me orange juice with no ice, they are trained for emergency situations.They should get more respect than they sometimes do.
4. “There is a hefty fine for disabling smoke detectors in the lavatories.” I assume this is true. Since I don’t smoke, it is not pertinent.
5. “Items may shift in the overhead bins during flight.” This is true. I opened the overhead bin tonight when we had landed in Houston and my coat fell out and swaddled the head and face of the young businessman in front of me. It is a soft, fake lambs wool black coat with silky lining. He seemed not to mind at all. In fact, he thanked me that it was not my roller board.
It would be nice to believe that even though things shift and change in the journey of life, there will be enough air to breathe even in turbulent times. It would be nice to believe that safe landings are made more likely by our wise choices and that, in the event of crash landings, there are life preservers.
And, metaphorically speaking, I do believe these cautions and assurances with regard to the life of faith, me, you, the journey of life that spans this life and the next, and God.
It’s just that sometimes; flying makes me realize what a vulnerable situation the human condition is and how much we have to take on faith.
But I’ll be on another flight tomorrow night. I have to to get home again.