Onboard Continental flight 4465, I was looking out the window at the Great Lakes. Having departed from Cleveland, I was pretty sure we were flying over Lake Erie heading Northeast to Burlington, Vermont.
As the flight attendant was handing out Ginger Ales and tomato juice over ice, he played tour guide of the skies.
“In just a few minutes, we’ll be passing over Niagara Falls. If you’re looking out the left side of the plane, you’ll see them between the lakes,” he explained. “They will look like a white patch.”
I leaned closer toward the window, thankful for the clear day. Ann and her family had gone to Niagara Falls this summer, and having seen the pictures, I was excited to have a chance to witness this natural wonder for myself.
With my nose pressed against the glass, I watched as Lake Erie narrowed and Lake Ontario moved into view. Soon now, I thought, listening to the attendant.
Within minutes, I heard the murmur in the seats ahead of me. I saw the North-flowing river; I had the perfect view of the connected lakes. The chatter in the cabin convinced me that we were flying over the falls, but the only white patch I saw looked more like white sand from 32,000 feet.
Water falling at 600,000 gallons per second looked as if it could sift through the neck of a 3-minute sand timer. The falls evoked wonder in that moment only in how small they were.
“If you are sitting on the right side of the plane,” the flight attendant announced as a consolation, “you’ll have a good view of the Finger Lakes.”
At least they actually looked like fingers.
I saw them on the return flight home.
From Indianapolis to Cleveland, Cleveland to Vermont, Vermont to Cleveland, Cleveland to Indianapolis, I sat in seat A on the small regional jets, both a window seat and an aisle seat at once.
When the skies were clear, I watched mountains emerge from flatlands, fields form patchwork quilts, and neighborhoods wind into mazes with only one way out. Each time we took off, I watched life as we know it shrink to invisible. With each landing, tiny ants grew into semi trucks; flashing red lights became the way home.
When it was cloudy, I looked at the wing.
No matter how low or high we would fly, whether brushing against angels or bumping along the tarmac, the wing always appeared the same. And me sitting there, though things above and below me became larger and smaller as my perspective changed, I was always the same size.
At least that’s the way it looked from seat A.
Ann and I were headed back to Indianapolis from Houston after a four-day writer’s retreat with the High Calling team at Laity Lodge. We had spent most of the trip laughing and telling stories; we each forked over $8 for the tapas snack box since we had nearly missed our flight and in the process actually did miss dinner; and we both decided to rest our eyes for a few minutes because it had been a long day.
As we began our descent, however, we both were peering out the window trying to make sense of where we were in the world.
“It’s amazing how small we really are when we see things from this perspective,” Ann said.
“Ummhhhmm,” I said, agreeing with her. “But I also have been thinking how big I always am when I can’t get away from myself. I can’t see myself from 36,000 feet. I just see myself from right here.”
Only when we see ourselves from someone else’s point of view do we see how small we really are, is what I really wanted to say, sitting there next to Ann in seat E.
And though what we all think we want is to be really big, really important in this world, we all fit together better in this place when we are small, and God is big.
Over the past couple of weeks, I have been rather quiet here in this world wide web.
Mostly it was out of necessity. I was traveling so much, sleeping in so many different beds, meeting so many different people, and still trying to rest some. There really wasn’t time to write.
But as I look back on this time away, I think I needed to grow smaller, to not be so concerned about my Klout score and my page views and the number of comments people were leaving. I needed to have thoughts that didn’t immediately get broadcast to the world, and I needed a little wide open space that Jesus could speak into that couldn’t be explained in 500 words or less.
Basically, I needed to get out of seat A so I could see how small I really am.