As we fly across the Atlantic, our progress is mapped on a giant screen mounted in the center aisle, high enough that I can see it from the penultimate row of the aircraft. Seat 63K.
It’s unreal to watch the names flash across the screen every ten seconds, the map’s frame of reference shifting from broad to narrow, but always showing the location of our little plane. The stats it displays are also pretty unbelievable.
Ground speed: 596 mph
Tempo de chegada: 2:14
My clock, still on Eastern time, reads 3:27. The lights are off. The blinds are closed. The plane is dark. The flight attendants are whispering to each other in French behind the curtain. I open the blind next to my seat just as we’re clearing Iceland, and bright sunlight pours in. I see that we’re flying into a sunrise well on its way through the sky. Their time is not our time.
I’ve been on this plane for nearly five hours, but I continue to watch the screen, transfixed. What strikes me is the apparent ordinariness of so many moments that my mind knows to be of such personal significance. These names and locations are busy going from places on a map to places on *my* map.
I believed it would never happen. That exploring places far from home could never be for me. I explained the situation ardently to anyone who asked — mostly reporters, but classmates, too, and teachers — that I could never risk it. That it was too dangerous. That I could be arrested and locked away forever in other countries for my beliefs and religious practices. The U.S. was the only place I was safe. God hates America, but I’ll never leave it.
Altitude: 11572 m
Velocidade de solo: 927 km/h
And I was *just fine* with that. These are “the bounds of my habitation.” I accept these limits. In my life, they are the truth, and there is no questioning the truth.
I know this present reality to be impossible, and yet it doesn’t feel impossible. It feels Same. Like every other late night flight I’ve ever taken. Everyone is sleeping through this wonderful insanity, their heads resting undisturbed in their silly neck pillows (I want a neck pillow).
But I’m scared. That’s how I know this is important (that, plus the fact that beautiful Norwegian mountains, covered in white from peak to base, the valleys between them filled with enormous snow drifts that are now drifting by outside my window). I’ve been flying for the past two decades; it’s not the plane that scares me, though it does rattle with heavy turbulence from time to time. It’s something else. Not the normal fears, either, though they’re certainly there, percolating: being robbed or roofied, losing my bank cards, getting lost myself. But there’s something new, too. A world full of people I don’t know, speaking languages I don’t understand, whose stories I can’t comprehend in any meaningful way – not even on a national level, because I know so little about these countries.
I wanted to know what it’s like to be in that position. Everyone should know, or at least contemplate, what it’s like. To be an outsider – not just ideologically, but by way of language, of customs, of national identity. And not just an outsider, but a minority, outnumbered, reliant on the kindness of strangers to help you on your way. We’d all tend to be more kind, gentle, gracious if we knew what that felt like, wouldn’t we? We’d do better about seeing the world through others’ eyes. We’d see ourselves through their eyes, too, our good and our bad. And it would make us think, and be proud, and be ashamed, and be inspired to get better, to do better, to be better.
At least, that’s what I think sitting here. I’m tired of sitting, though, and my legs are aching to move, so I might not be thinking clearly.
I just don’t want to be asleep.