The hotel room was dark. The faint smell of bleach permeated from bathroom to the living room. A stillness existed which, until my arrival, was unbroken. It was only when I turn on the lights, looked in the mirror that I saw the ragged strands of hair pointed as compass on top of my head.
Twelve hours has a weight about it. When you are traveling, catching two flights combined with an hour and a half drive, it manifests physically. I ran the water for a shower and while I waited, I sat on the edge of my bed, my hands collapsed over my face.
I’ve never been much for flying. Not to say I have a fear, but just a general dislike. The landing is the never problem, because the closer the plane reaches the ground (without falling), the more thankful I become. But the takeoff, that’s something else. Nothing forces a more transcendental state with me than as the aircraft climbs through the clouds while the entire craft is being bounced around by turbulence. I become Buddha, seeking nirvana in the madness of flight.
Unlucky for me, I was assigned the middle seat for both flights. As I was writing this column, I was still unsure if I’d have the same fate on my return flight, but knowing the way this travel has went so far, I didn’t hold my breath.
For the first flight, I found myself next to a body builder whose biceps were roughly the circumference of my skull. As he placed his book on the tray, it was then I discovered I left mine in the car at the airport. After this revelation, I plugged in my headphones and listened The Allman Brothers play as the plane left the terra firma of Indianapolis. For the most part, the flight was smooth until our decent into Dallas Forth Worth. This is when I learned my first lesson about appearances. The man I mentioned previously, at first bump of turbulence, almost tore his book in half. Confused, I looked towards him. His eyes had the wild look of a caged animal, searching for some grounding. He found it in the aisle behind him. I presume the woman he was looking at was his wife or girlfriend, but her stare, from my interpretation was thus: “It’s just turbulence, don’t freak out. Seriously. Don’t you make a scene!”
We were an hour late in landing. There was rain in Dallas and our connecting flight to Tulsa was also an hour delayed on the runway. The travel gods were not in my favor.
After the experience of being seated adjacent to someone who had a fear of flying on the first leg of my journey, I thought I hit the lottery when I saw the man I was to sit next to was wearing a cassock and white collar. I nodded and said “Father” as I took my seat next to him. From appearances, the young priest looked as if he was in seminary school or just completed it. I did not wish to insult him from my prying questions, so I just mostly kept my attention forward. At first, I had a sense of relief thinking well, priest generally have the mentality of fatalism, so he should not be nervous at all. Also, the flight was to last only42 minutes. I was wrong.
My second lesson on appearances began when the plane flew directly into rain clouds. I expected turbulence, the priest did not. As we took flight, the priest sat with his eyes closed as he faced the window. Upon the first cabin jolt, his eyes were wide and with every subsequent jolt, his body would respond in kind. In his hand was clutched a Kindle and as the turbulence kept coming, he make a conscious decision not to take his attention away from it for the rest of the flight.
Curiosity got the best of me when a particular strong hit of turbulence rocked the cabin. The young priest breathed out heavily and read on. I was curious which passage of the Bible he was drawing his strength from, so as I looked over. I realized the format was not chapter-verse. Upon closer inspection, I noticed the main character was Jon Snow and that he was reading a book from The Songs of Fire and Ice (Game of Thrones). With a grin, I returned my vision back to the seat in front me and closed my eyes with “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” playing through my headphones.
Grant is a staff writer for the Greene County Daily World. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.