My last breath of outside had not yet swept through my lungs before I found myself inside yet again. After wiggling out of the leather-scented headache of the limo, I had taken a slow, deep breath that I hoped would banish the trepidation surrounding the next eight or more hours. It was a shame that was the only time I had.
From that moment on, I followed through layers of procedures and structures. Suitcase was overweight, TSA operators filed us and our belongings through assembly lines, all the petty things. And deeper I tunneled into a wistful rabbit hole, periodically looking back as if there was a way out. But I knew from here I would move from a domed terminal to a rectangular hall to a gate to a chute to a plane, so I buried myself even further inside fleeting comforts like the plastic terminal cafeteria chairs and snacks to calm the nerves.
Gift shops turned to rows of chairs and walls of windows, not once did I feel my feet touch ground. Already my mind was in flight just so I could breathe again. Outside, not a cloud besmirched the sky, and the air was so clear. I watched the world roll by, cropped by bars and frames. Through every medium it was distorted. I looked back again. Now a beautiful gold infused the pastel sunset and it was the most incredible sight because it was intangible. If I looked back again I would fall into panic, which is not an ideal state of mind to be in before locking yourself in the air.
Life has no time for the idyllic, so it joins hands with Time in its fast-walk through space. The last time I was in an airport, I stood at the KLM check-in area and awkwardly bid someone goodbye for the last time. And though I knew that not seeing each other again was the best way to protect us, I looked back with every few steps through the sliding doors. Now, clacking through the hall and trying to spot my gate, already I witnessed about five parting kisses and violent embraces that I let myself empathize with, even though my own memory of parting was turning four months old.
Sitting near the gate, I shuffled the contents of my carry-on and pretended I could run my hands along the plane trails that scored the sky. Maybe looking back at a sunset long enough would transport me to its 25-degree light instead of temperature-controlled complacency.
I despised every eye that wasn’t his, every child screaming out of fear, that one elderly man appearing absolutely grim and indifferent to his daughter fetching him a magazine and water bottle, and every plane taking off that I wish I could lasso down and say to any passenger: “Stop! You’re leaving someone behind for good!”
But this bitterness vanished when I looked up from myself and away from the windows. I realized, noticing the exhausted, cold faces of my fellow airplane passengers, that we all meet the same end. Every one of these people, infant or senile, had experienced that shocking nanosecond of fear before sleep, when you realize it is not just the present that will change and end, but everything you are. Though some may be too haughty or conceited to admit it, it does not make the inevitable any less true. And I glanced again at the elderly man’s face, seemingly stoic before, now full of emotions, kindness perhaps, or elation, or loss. I felt no spite around me for the first time in months, no cynical separation from men and women just like me.
We traipse about in our heads, in our boxes, jaded toward one another, and even the most understanding comrade out there still feels bitter about something. But as I began to truly notice other faces around me, frowning in discomfort on metal seats, spanning every age man has reached and lived through possibly twice over, I hated no one. I resented no one. They were people, just as I am; we are ourselves, all falling into the same pit. And whether or not we reach out for a partner to hoist us out for just a little time, or to fall with, we are still just us. How can I spite and rebuke those I don’t know? How can I just judge who I will avoid and who I will show kindness to within the first few moments I enter a room?
This is no way to live—to smile and say you’re happy with your life, then carry the burden of hatred and prejudice at your core. It is what steers you to walk, controls your eyes, your gut, your mind, and even how you create. We seek refuge from this disgust of ourselves in another, but we can seek it in everyone, if we gave everyone a chance. How many lives can you affect before your ultimate fear becomes reality? Be it flight or the end of your life, it’s shocking what one glare or shove can do. Perhaps if we sympathize with one another, console and quell this panic, there would not always be a hierarchy but maybe an equality, a shared secret.
All this fear before flight is an excuse to know each other, not ignore the stranger sitting next to you on the same creaking bench in Gate 26. We’ll relate and reinvent ourselves through the new acquaintances we’ve made. Ultimately, we’ll not hate those we do not know but enter every building, every street, every room, every plane, with a blank slate. And we’ll never look back.
A writing and film student at Sarah Lawrence College, Michaela Brady is about to travel to Oxford University for her junior year abroad.