I love to fly. I was so grateful to recently have an opportunity to be in an airplane. Taking off is my favorite part. I love the sensation of speeding up and lifting up and getting higher and higher in the air. When the small plane took off from the airport this week, I was grinning ear to ear while filming from my iPhone so that I could show my kids what it looks and sounds like to get airborne.
On my final flight to my destination, I had a window seat again (thank goodness). As I approached the row of my seat, I was checking out the guy I would soon be sitting next to. He was old-ish–I had a feeling he looked much older than he actually was. He was really thin, with tan and wrinkly skin and gray hair. He had on ragged jeans and a turquoise sweatshirt and those awkward-looking white sneakers with the soles that are just a tad too thick.
He didn’t make eye contact when I said “excuse me” and shuffled by him to take my seat. He kept his focus on the book in his lap. I sat down, put my giant purse under the seat in front of me, buckled my seat belt. Sent a quick text to my husband, switched my phone to airplane mode, and gazed out the window. Ready for takeoff.
We were airborne and I watched carefully as the buildings and swimming pools and rivers got smaller and smaller. Soon we were above the clouds. To my right was evidence of this great wonder: human beings get to fly through the air. Somehow, because of lots and lots of intelligence and effort and strength and technology and logistical miracles, I was flying above the clouds.
To my left was this man reading this book. I glanced down at it. I recognized it instantly. It was the “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous. I started reading along with him the words on the page. They were words of fear and courage. Hitting the bottom and deciding to look up. He read slowly, never looking up. I smiled in his direction because he made me think of the last man I know who read that book–my dad.
I was struggling to decide whether I should say anything to him. I could tell that I really wanted to connect because I couldn’t look away from him.
Near the end of our flight, as we were preparing for our descent into St. Louis, I said, softly, “my dad has been sober two years this July.” He looked up. Eye contact. The slightest smile I’ve ever seen. He said, “me–7 weeks today.” I nodded and told him that the journey took all the courage our family had. That I was so proud of my dad. He said yeah, it was hard.
And that was it. I looked to my right again and wondered: which is the bigger miracle? Flight or sobriety? And I decided neither one had to win. I was allowed to be equally in awe, all at once, with the courage to my left and the power to my right. I sat in the middle and took a deep breath in. I thought to myself as I breathed: thank you for the power and courage around me. May I borrow some for myself for the road ahead.