Above the clouds, we’re all as one

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 14, 2003

Over 10 years have passed since my maiden trip aboard a commercial aircraft, but yet I still recall vivid memories of that one little slice of life.

It was March of 1992. Chowan College, then in its final season as a nationally renowned basketball power in the National Junior College Athletic Association, sent its men’s team to the NJCAA &uot;Sweet 16&uot; in Hutchinson, Kansas. As the sports editor of this newspaper, I accompanied the Braves on that trip out to our nation’s heartland.

I remember how nervous I was, boarding what appeared to be a long coffin – full of what I viewed as other victims. I just knew we would all die in a horrific crash. Somehow, I mustered-up enough courage to walk down the &uot;aisle of death,&uot; find my seat, pulled the lap belt hard enough to cut off the blood supply to my head and hung on for dear life as that massive flying machine rocketed down the runway at breakneck speed.

Suffice to say that I survived that trip, but I never got up the courage to glance out the window. In my mind, what I couldn’t see wouldn’t kill me.

Fast forward to March of this year. I had to attend a company-wide editorial meeting in Birmingham, Alabama. Once again, with palms sweating, I boarded a commercial jet and, once again, I dared not look out the window.

Much to my dismay, I was doomed to sit at a window seat on the return flight to Norfolk. It was at night, so I pulled the window shade in order to shield my eyes from certain doom and gloom. Shortly before we landed, I did finally work-up the nerve to pull the shade back just a bit. That didn’t last long as our plane, at the time, was on final approach to Norfolk International, meaning it looked like we were skimming the top of the water of the Elizabeth River. I immediately averted my eyes, waiting for the eventual &uot;splashdown.&uot; Seconds later, the jet made a smooth touchdown on the runway.

This past weekend, this crusty old reporter was again &uot;off into the wild blue yonder.&uot; I was scheduled to attend a regional seminar in Niles, Michigan – a small town just north of South Bend, Indiana. Another flight, another stomach-churning ordeal.

But this one was different, much different. Instead of a commercial jet, I hopped a ride in our corporate aircraft – a four passenger, turbo prop. In a small plane such as this, you can’t help not to see (unless one keeps their eyes glued shut the entire time) what’s going on – up, down and all around. I kept my eyes open and what I discovered was a pleasant surprise.

Sure, I was still nervous – my hand steadily and continuously gripping the cup holder located next to my seat was a testament to that fact. But there was something different, very different, about this airborne trip as, totally out of character, I defied my fear of flying and boldly peered out the window.

Other than the first time I laid eyes on my daughter shortly after she was born, what I saw was the most breathtaking sight I had ever witnessed. Stretched out below were miles, upon endless miles, of God’s green Earth. Patches and green and tan perfectly portrayed forests and dirt. Houses appeared smaller than the ones used in Monopoly. Rivers and creeks snaked their way over the terrain. Lakes appeared as tiny blue dots on the landscape. Clouds provided a patchwork from which to view these magnificent sites.

As the engines purred their perfect song in unison, I began to think just how beautiful is the world we live in. From thousands of feet in the air, I witnessed no suffering, no hatred and no racial strife. From above, there are no lines of division between political parties or religious beliefs. You can’t determine between rich and poor. There were no signs of extortion, bribery or greed.

Up above the clouds, the beautiful world in which we live seems all as one. There’s total peace and tranquility. Unfortunately, reality once again rears its ugly head upon landing.