Barrelled Thoughts #44 – Up

Monday, April 21, 2014

I’m not a frequent flyer but I’ve been on my fair share of aeroplanes. After all this time, being up in the air, in the most literal sense, still intrigues me and tickles my senses. And it never ceases to amaze me every time we’re up over the clouds; “above the weather,” soaring away at 15,000m.

There’s never a grey day when looking out the window of a passenger airliner. It’s always sunny and the clouds are always calm. Why? Heaven knows—well, some meteorologists do, too, I suppose.

When I look down at the sheath of clouds our plane is drifting over, the craft is almost at a standstill, slowly shuffling along. Flying over this layer of “marshmallows” is also fascinating because when you look across the vast, open spaces afforded to you by travelling through the troposphere, the clouds look almost land-like. It’s as if you’re flying over solid earth, except it’s all white.

There are hills and mounds and mesas and plateaus in this “second layer” of the living. Oh, how the great poets would have exhausted their quills and tested their fingers if tasked with describing this now all too common feat.

Leonardo da Vinci envisioned an era, in which man would fly amongst sparrows and doves. He dreamt up contraptions and apparatuses in an effort to realise his fantasies, only for mankind to go beyond the mastermind’s wildest dreams.

We now fly higher than any bird. Not bound by migratory instinct, we go where we please, when we please. What was but a figment of da Vinci’s imagination is now an everyday convenience. How on Earth did we get here?

When the Wright brothers were airborne for the first time during an age of failed attempts at aviation, I wonder if they ever thought that flying would become accessible and practical to such an extent that millions in the world can say that they’ve flown in the ocean of white and blue at least once in their lives.

That said, such a figure would only reflect about 5% of the world’s population, according to Stephen Fry and his QI elves.

So, what does this mean for man, who continuously defies the forces of nature, despite all evidence suggesting he cannot?

What does this mean for a species that, in search of a constant rush of blood to the head, relentlessly reaps the Earth’s resources to achieve miracles that no other generation had even dared to think of?

I am up in the air. The aircraft is steady. How can something so sturdy and reliable still strike such fear and trepidation into the hearts and minds of those who use it?

Because the meticulous design of Mother Nature is flawless—including man and all his scientifically perfect golden ratios, but the design of man is not.

Man makes mistakes. And mistakes—in this particular case—cost lives.

We fly over the South China Sea, veering to the right as we adjust towards our final destination, and I am still wondering why I am captivated by aeroplanes so much.

I suppose there’s no need to wander around my own brain, picking my own thoughts. What remains is to simply sit and marvel at the impossible turned possible thanks to the endeavours of a few sharp-eyed men and women and their overextending monkey wrenches.

On a final note, if there is really a heaven, this might very well be the closest I’ll ever get to it in this lifetime or the next. JSF.

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