July 2, 2013


For most of my life, I could not stay awake on an airplane.

Perhaps it came from all the travel I had to do early in my career — I routinely spent more time in airplanes and airports than I did at my own apartment — but I had developed a particular skill at falling asleep during any flight of any duration.

I would fall asleep before takeoff, as soon as I had buckled my seatbelt. I would never hear the safety announcement, never feel the pressure popping in my ears, never eat an in-flight meal. Even if I tried to stay awake, no matter what the duration (I’ve slept all the way through a 45 minute hop to Windsor and a 14-hour voyage to Tokyo) of the flight, I would fall asleep before we hit the runway and not wake up until the we had pulled into our arrival gate.

For business travel, it was quite the handy skill to have. When traveling with friends and lovers, however, it could be frustrating.

The past 12-14 flights I’ve taken over the past year have been different. Nowadays, I find it difficult to fall asleep, even if I’m on a redeye and haven’t slept in several hours. If I do nap, it’s usually for ten minutes from the time I sit down until the moment the plane starts heading down the runway for takeoff.

Sunrise in the forest

Yesterday, I watched the sunrise from 39,000 feet in the sky.

We forget, I think, how magical it is to be above the clouds, to see the sun create bands of color that sit in the sky like ribbons on a birthday present. I watch the sunrise from my apartment fairly regularly, but I had forgotten what it looked like from high up in the atmosphere.

In the past, my time in the sky was spent in slumber because it was effective; I arrived at my destinations well-rested and didn’t have to cope with the ups and downs (pun intended) of air travel. It was effective, but it wasn’t beautiful.

We do that, sometimes, whether in the sky or on the ground. We slumber and stumble through life quickly and easily, because it is effective, because it allows us to not be too concerned about the ups and downs around us.

This kind of life is effective, but not beautiful.

A metaphorical slumber hides life’s beauty. By staying awake and present, by being present in the good and the bad, we may arrive at our destinations a little tired, a little sore, a little weary, but we will have had the chance to witness the ribbons of color that only come when our eyes are open, and we are reaching past the clouds.