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Kathy Bradley - Enjoying life while flying high

    At 33,000 feet, levitating between earth and sky on a pallet of white clouds, I am neither here nor there. With no watch and with the cell phone turned off, I don’t know the time. All the faces are the faces of strangers.
    Flying always produces in me, contrary to what I would have imagined before ever taking my first plane trip, a meditative state. What is done is done. What is behind is behind. My usual tendency to reexamine, rehash, relive gets checked at the gate and, if I’m lucky, lost somewhere in the airport.
    At 33,000 feet it is all anticipation.
    But the plane can’t stay suspended in the ether forever. Eventually it has to land. It must begin the slow, angled drop that will deposit me onto tarmac, into time. And with the descent comes the pain.
    I understand the physiology: unequal pressure between the middle ear and the cabin of the airplane, pressure that can’t be equalized as it normally would be by the Eustachian tube because the tube is blocked. And since the air flow is blocked the eardrum gets stretched; with the stretching comes the pain.
    The only thing that makes it bearable is the knowledge that it won’t last forever and that what awaits me on the ground is worth it.
    Today, as I feel the pressure building, transforming itself from annoyance to discomfort to measurable pain, what awaits me on the ground are cooler temperatures and the hugs of two towheads. Not a bad tradeoff. So I move my jaw up and down and back and forth, pump my finger in and out of my ear like a mascara wand, close my eyes and visualize 82 degrees and a light wind.
    And I find myself considering how often I have done just that in a less literal, more emotional way. How often I’ve been flying high, oblivious to everything not in Seat 27D, responsible for nothing beyond keeping my seat belt fastened when I gradually became aware of a growing buzz, something not exactly a noise, clearly not a voice, but definitely a sound rising in my ears. Aware, but not bothered.
    How the buzzing got louder and interfered with my self-centered thoughts, got louder still and started pushing those thoughts out with something like a dull ache that grew into a sting into a throb, ignorable no longer. How most of the time, at just about the moment I thought I’d rather cut off that ear than hear what was being whispered into it, my plane touched safely down and rolled to a stop. And how, just as I was dragging my suitcase off the carousel at baggage claim, the words came, in clear translation and with the impact of a left hook, to show me the way to the parking lot and beyond.
    The intercom crackles and breaks my train of thought. “We have been cleared to land,” says the man in the navy blue suit behind the metal door. “Please return your seats to an upright position,” instructs the flight attendant. I look out the tiny window; the clouds have disappeared and I can see buildings and highways and green.
    Forrest Gump thought life was like a box of chocolates. Poets have offered that life is like a river, a coin, a journey, a battle, a puzzle. Today I’m thinking that life is a lot like a plane ride from Savannah to Baltimore with a layover in Atlanta. And I’m thinking that what I got for my money was more than biscotti cookies and “Thank you for flying Delta.”

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