The space between frightened heartbeats
The wait for the unwanted answer
The way to describe an inconceivable
I sat on the plane, waiting for the usual ritual of things before we would take off and head home. The flight had been delayed, so the whole trip would happen in darkness. The air hostess went through the emergency exit rules with us in her sing song, ‘this will never happen in 37 million light years’ voice. I imagined the feeling of the red rubber handle, and how heavy 20 kilos would be as I pulled the door out and turned it on its side. I also thought how glad I was that people with compulsions don’t sit in the exit rows.
The air outside, through the double plastic windows, was frosty, and so crystal clear that the lights on the runway were bold and had no halos. The engines started up and the plane crawled to the runway. The notion of flight for this giant metal tube with wings, and all the passengers, with their bags and suitcases, and telephones and laptops, and 300 jackets, and toiletry bags filled with more stuff, seemed as unlikely as another earth 37 million light years away. I knew that this was nothing short of a science miracle, and yet, I was irritated that we would be 45 minutes later than expected; our dogs were waiting. People are funny and strange. We had stood in the boarding queue and tapped our heels and checked our phones and glared at the people in their winter airport coats behind their little ticket desks, urging them to hurry it all up. Like hurrying up a cake that is baking. Nobody says, “We are going to be flying in the air. Let’s make sure this is all safe, and can happen.”
The lights dimmed in the cabin, for take-off. It was magical and beautiful and very sad. We had gone up country to say final goodbyes to one family member and to spend time with others, especially our freshly growing little niece. Now we were going in the opposite direction. I know Cape Town is only 1 264km away from Johannesburg, but when there is a niece that distance away it feels like 37 million light years.
The giant bird tilted in the low sky and started to climb. The lights. 37 million light years of lights below us, like a mirror to the unseen sky above. The two hour stretch of time pulled out in front of us; a rubbery string of endlessness made worse by cramped seats and totally taken for granted expectation. The pilot announced that he would take short cuts, and get us there 20 minutes early, only a half an hour later than scheduled. The distance between irritation and relief. I imagined a mouth, just a mouth on its own, chewing patiently at the rubber string, bite by bite, bringing us home.
Then, like a quantum leap, black hole warp drive, an eternity was suddenly reduced and the plane was readying for descent. Tray tables were put away and the last few bits were thrown into the moving trash bin. Humans are experts at creating waste. Physical, emotional, spiritual. Then, 10 minutes to landing. Then landing.
My heart was split into 37 million light years of pieces. A joyous reunion with home – 10 million. A pulsing longing for what we had left – 10 million, a what if 7 million, and another lost 10 million, lost to how easily we take things for granted.
We’re doing this post as part of a weekly tandem blog post. There are three of us this time, writing on the same topic, 37 Million Light Years. Please check out Dave and Brett’s take by following their links.