Airports/Airplanes and What They Teach Us About Paying Attention to Life

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My sister told us she “loved airports” on Thanksgiving: “I love everything,” she chirped, unwrapping an ornament. “The pre-flight beer, the airport smell…” to which my Mom facetiously replied: “Oh, airport smell? You know, they make an ‘Airport’ candle now.” And because I was born without a B.S. detector, my next thoughts were something like: But airports don’t all smell the same

I, like my sister, love airports. Does anyone else get reflective (like, sentimental, not like a mirror) in airports? No? I do. For me, if airports had a theme song, it would be something poignant, but positive, like: “I Don’t Want to Wait,” by Paula Cole. Even if I am just listening to the Biebs while I am pulling paper towels out the dispenser in the women’s bathroom, I am like, also, watching a video montage of my life. Airports. Hot beds of emotion.

Once I am in the air, lap tops are open. Travel pillows, binkies, and arm rest wars abound. The flight attendant pours drinks, while at least 20% of the passengers wait for their weed Jolly Ranchers to kick in (**Natalie Decided this is a Statistic-Statistic**). Magic happens. An Indian man gives you his peanuts because you are, evidently, visibly starving. A nurse coaches Jennifer from Costa Mesa through a vicious panic attack: “Honey, look: Kourtney Kardashian is pregnant again. Breathe, sweetie, breathe. Here, read about these ridiculous people.” You cry at a Pixar movie. Sunset is happening. If you are in the Jolly Rancher Group (though, certainly, you are not), you are wishing that you had, like, fifteen more bags of peanuts. The Indian man is onto you.

Out your window, you might see snow melting on the Rockies in tiny white rivulets. Maxfield Parrish clouds tumbling. Speed boats that appear motionless on a wind-whipped ocean. You can see gorges, rivers, whole mountain ranges, the pink salt lakes. But there is a lot you can’t see, too. You can’t see, for instance, a man pausing in the doorway, suitcase in hand. A mother singing softly to her newborn in a just-decorated nursery. Pink bougainvillea bushes flittering in the wind. A woman in cotton pajamas with another glass of wine, looking hard at herself in the mirror. Flowers open their petals to the sun. Horses whinny in their stables. Surfers are silent before work.

Stories are unfolding everywhere, but you can’t see them. You are too far away. You are moving too fast. When you are in an airplane, you essentially have got the cadaver, when what you want is the real thing. Every day examples, like me, asking my smart, athletic roommate if I am clear on her side because I can’t see s**% with two boards in the car. My hands on a tan wooden floor – my face pink with strain – in a plank position. My Dad says “I love you, too, dear,” inside his office. Gray dolphin flesh. Glitter-covered poinsettias. A toddler hobbling towards a crystalline fountain. Sliver-sized slices of my life, that are, actually, really rich in taste.

The snow-covered forest is much more beautiful when you know the fractal geometry of each individual snowflake. Like, there are lungs in your chest filling with air. There is a person out there waiting to love you. There are monks praying for your welfare. Flowers for you to discover, for you to plant, for you to place between covers of books. There are plays for you to see, paintings to wow you. There is love for you to give, and equally as good, not better, to receive.

We are lucky to be sentient beings. We know there are limits to our vision. In the way some people need readers to see up close, or prescriptions to see far away, sometimes we don’t see our own lives clearly. We don’t see our lives correctly. Because the truth is, there were a series of synchronicities that had to happen to bring each of us here in the first place. We are lucky, merely, to be alive. To have a social security number, and a little corner of our own to decorate with trees and snowflakes from World Market, say.

Maybe sometimes – or most times, even – it’s not the things in our lives that need to change. It’s how we see them.

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