Eyes turned skyward
“When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”
— Leonardo da Vinci
I’ve written here before about having grown up in an airline family, surrounded by relatives and friends who were pilots, and hearing endless talk of flight from my earliest memory. In those days, few of my friends had flown (except for the many who, like me, grew up with airline employees in their families, of which there were plenty in Atlanta). But I can remember flying before the days of jet engines, when even the major airlines flew propeller planes. In just my lifetime, aviation has changed tremendously, and not all of the changes have been for the better.
I don’t know how Leonardo da Vinci nailed it so well without having tasted flight himself, but he’s right. My experiences growing up with airplanes, and later my years working for US Airways, have meant that I pretty much walk with my eyes turned skyward, figuratively if not literally.
If you had told me when I was a child that there would come a day when flying was almost as common as riding a bus, and people would talk of it with contempt and even disgust, I would never have believed you. When airline deregulation passed, my father predicted just such a scenario, but even then I could not imagine it. And still, when I’m flying on a sunny day and happen to be near enough to a window to glimpse the brightly-lit clouds below, all the magic comes back. I just don’t understand how we came to take such a phenomenal experience for granted.
On a recent trip into DC, I decided to get off at the Arlington Cemetery metro stop and walk into the city across the Arlington Memorial Bridge. There were several sights I planned to take in, but my timing was such that when I crossed the bridge it was a very busy time for air traffic, and I ended up spending much of my time there with eyes literally turned skyward. I watched in fascination, snapping away with my camera as plane after plane shot staggered approaches into Reagan National Airport, just seconds apart. The risk and precision of it amazed me, although it was nothing I had not heard of hundreds of times before.
A few weeks later my brother, a retired Northwest Airlines pilot, accompanied us into DC for Matt’s arm surgery. As we came into the city, he remarked that he couldn’t cross those bridges over the Potomac without feeling an anxiety-related adrenaline rush conditioned by years of shooting harrowing approaches to the short runways of DCA. Again I thought of how much we take for granted about flying, and how ungrateful we usually are for the relative safety and convenience of modern air travel.
I stay so busy that I don’t have much time to miss my years at USAir and the wonderful flying privileges I grew up with and later enjoyed as an airline employee. But just as Leonardo said, there I have been, and there some part of me will always long to return.
Do you like to fly? Or has the negative press related to delays and fare increases, scary (though relatively rare) fatalities, and hassles of security searches ruined it for you? Notwithstanding all of the aforementioned drawbacks, can you at least enjoy the occasional glimpse out the window that shows you a different view of our world, one Leonardo would have given so much to experience even one time?