My entire life I have wanted to be in the cockpit of a Cessna or Lear Jet. Whatever. In the perfectly perfect contradictions of life, yesterday was that day.
All I wanted to do when I woke up was get out of the rather creepy hotel that touted a harbor view ( marketing ploy--think views of rusting tankers and eroded pilings ) in East Providence, get some gas for my rental car so I could avoid the $5 a gallon surcharge for refills, and get to the T.F. Greene airport on time for my 35 minute flight to Nantucket. Oh, and to do all of that without getting lost or colliding with notoriously crazy New England drivers. Got the gas. Didn't get hit. Got to the airport. Got in the security line, e-ticket receipt and license in hand, laptop out, sweater off, quart size baggie ready for inspection, proper size Tumi carry on rolling along side of me. There were only 10 people in line. It was Saturday, not even 9am. In Providence.
First bump. "I'm sorry Miss ( why do they call me "Miss"? ), the seated, full bodied guard began." But you'll have to go back, find Cape Air--I'm not sure where they are this year...they move their location alot." She shifted her weight on the high stool where she was holding court, and added. " Can't go through here until she give you a REAL ticket." OK, I'm thinking already irritated. Whatever.
I scour the rest of the check in area for Cape Air amidst Continental , US Airways and Air Canada. In a far corner, I find a counter with the Cape Air logo in the far corner. No agent.
I wait. And wait. Finally, a thirtyish blond woman arrives. There is a family of five ahead of me with at least 10 pieces of luggage ( don't people read the surcharge info about checked bags? ).
I waited, checking my watch, noting the exponential increase in the security line.
Oh, and have I mentioned that Hurricane Bill at the time was careening up the coast line, skies were overcast, and there was a little bit of get the milk and bread it could be a big storm mentality in the northeast?
Victoria, the agent, checks my return flight. It is incorrect. Fifteen minutes later, Victoria gets the Cape Air office ( think 300 sq. ft. space in Hyannis ) on the phone ( can't access it by computer ), makes the change. Back to the line. I set off the security screening device. Please don't stop me for a search, I just want to get on the plane.
The screener pulls my bulging handbag off the conveyor belt and approaches me with it clutched close to her chest."Ma'am, you've got a water bottle in here," she says waving with her latex gloved hand. Damn. She's right.
The 30 people behind me are not happy. Can't blame them. Head for the gate, show my ticket, give her my weight, weight my carry on ( Always comforting to know that these small planes want these calculations to be sure we don't take a nosedive over Nantucket Sound. ) And I wait and watch the clouds thicken, the passengers ( all twelve of us ) arrive. The agent ( no mike ) announces the flight and we follow her like ducklings down a long hall, two flights of steps to the tarmac and our little Cessna. I take one last worried look at the cloud cover hoping that we get off the ground before the Nantucket airport is socked in.
I am first in line to get up the four wobbly steps to the plane. The guy in the orange vest, our escort, looks at me: "Ma'am, we need someone up front today. You wanna be the co-pilot?"
"Absolutely. Yes, yes, yes", I laughed. "I have always, ALWAYS wanted to be in the cockpit of a plane." The captain nodded as I climbed into the right hand front, strapped myself in. I could hardly contain my absolute delight.
I turned to the other passengers now sitting quietly in neat rows behind me. " Does anyone have a camera, " I asked scanning their faces. No answer. " Mine's broken. And I have always, always wanted to do this." The woman in the seat behind me poked her husband. " I'll take it on my Blackberry and send it to your email," he offered.
The man next to me ( he lived on Cliff Road come to find out which overlooks Nantucket Sound with stunning views ) gave me paper and pen to jot down my email address. The wife of the photographer handed it to her husband ( they are in Madaket where the surf is always up and the sunsets are brilliant ). "It's on its way to you," he said with a big grin.
"By the way," the photographer began, "are you serving drinks after takeoff."
Fred, the pilot, took off into a soupy sky talking to air traffic control. Minutes later, we had climbed to our assigned altitude and were heading almost due east, the hum of the motor comforting. From the cockpit, I had an 180 degree vantage point with windows on either side and windows above my head.
Fred stopped talking to the tower, settled back. We were over water now, and coming into the biggest, puffiest cumulus clouds I have ever seen. Certainly that I have ever seen this close. I imagined how it would feel to be able to slide my arm through the thin layer of metal that separated me from thin air in some kind of virtual experience, and touch them as we flew by. Just then, a shard of dazzling sun split the cloud with light. It was just like an old Cecil B. deMille film.
And, yes, I did feel, just for a moment, as if I was able to imagine the infinite.
Isn't that how life works? Just about ready to brace yourself for disappointment--a missed meeting with an old and dear friend, a numbing estrangement from a sibling or child, an injury that turns out to be chronic, possibly a disability. And then, on a dime, a wish come true.
( Note to self: look at the picture above ( thanks to a stranger ) and remember.
So what do I know today that I didn't yesterday?
That it pays to remember the singular moments that move me. Savor them. Store them in my heart for the winter-grim times that are sure to come. Maybe life is really mostly about persistence. Not being willing to give in to disappointment.
Could the quest for meaning be that simple?