>A Kiss Before Flying


This Sunday, at some point well before dawn, more than a year of planning (of which, the first 2/3 was mostly fretting and dithering, two very essential phases that most management courses don’t tell you about) will reach its culmination: We’re off to Hawaii (which is to say: back home) to celebrate my 50th birthday.

I was hoping to have something meaningful and profound to say about this moment, which seems both banal and profound as I hold it up to the light and turn it round and round.

But I don’t. I mean, I know what I ought to be feeling. The truth, though, is that I’m fully engaged in the Checklist Stage, which means that I’m concentrated on making lists and crossing things off them, a kind of occupational therapy for those without access to a nice, calming Xanax prescription.

Or I worry about things like whether our pilots will remember to adjust the wing flaps so the plane can actually develop enough lift to get off the ground, unlike what happened last August in Madrid when a Spanair flight bit the dust on takeoff from a height of about forty feet, killing 154 people.

In fact, according to recent reports, human rather than mechanical error is today responsible for more than 90% of all plane crashes, which is the sort of thing that can keep a person up nights. Especially if you spend a few minutes looking at the statistics.

For the period from January 1, 2002 to October 8, 2008,

— deaths due to mechanical/human failure: 7,606

— deaths due to terrorism: 0

But that doesn’t mean I won’t have to take off jacket, shoes, belt, and who knows what else as we go through the “security” check. Nor does it mean I’ll be able to bring a homemade sandwich to eat on the plane rather than spend $10 for the one the airline would like me to buy onboard.

Now, I suppose you could look at those numbers and say “See how well all that security is working!” Though that reminds me of the terrible groaner about the Texan who starts putting up red flags all around his garden “to scare the elephants away.” His neighbor remarks, “But there aren’t any elephants around here!” And the Texan retorts … yeah, well, you get the point.

Still, maybe if they were screening, training, paying, and scheduling pilots better, instead of worrying about what you’re carrying in that baby bottle, a significant chunk of those 7,606 people might still be alive.

But what do I know?

It’s certainly easier thinking about things like this than it is thinking about a concept like “home” (see, “going back to”); or which is the place where one lives and which is the place one is visiting; or whether one is moving toward or escaping from any given physical (or metaphorical) destination; or about the journey everybody’s making, every day, and all of us in the same direction, which are the thoughts that tend to creep around the edges of your mind like the neighbor’s cat as you reach the eve of your fiftieth birthday and as you contemplate spending your fifty-first year in a country that’s only partly yours (for reasons of birth) rather than in a different country that’s only partly yours (for reasons of politics and philosophy and morality).

In the meantime:

Print out e-tickets
Pack earplugs
Buy batteries
Decide what books to read on the plane
Make sure neighbor has house keys so she can water the plants
Clean out fridge
Unplug everything



Posted on 22 October 2008, in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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