Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Night Flying

The colors of dusk glow in the sky as creatures below go about their evening routines, unaware of me gliding above at 34,000 feet, trying to peer into their world for the brief moment I am suspended overhead. Street lights quickly become the sole means of viewing the globe below as darkness envelops the earth, the last glimmer of sunlight only visible to those flying into the western sunset.

New York City glows with life, vibrant streets dancing with activity still apparent from such a distance. Cars lumber through traffic clogged highways and move through intersections like a well choreographed dance routine. The city that never sleeps actually wakes up from the dreary look of daylight when skyscrapers and billboards put on their evening shows. My mind wanders with amazement of the number of lives crammed on this one bright island when so much open space is visible through the small window before me. The beauty of the heavens, God’s very own light show, is masked by these lights. But for those drawn to the city, light pollution is a small price to pay for the opportunity to live in the planet’s spotlight.

Suburbs radiate from the sparkling city like rays of sun. Endless miles of small towns, where families arrive home from work, prepare dinner, watch TV and wind down from another tiring day in the rat race. The only sign of season revealed by the baseball diamonds, strategically dotted on the landscape, all aglow as little leaguers and corporate softball teams play America’s pastime under stadium lights. There are so many fields of varying sizes lit for evening play, that it is hard to imagine night ball as relatively new in the history of sports.

Besides the distinctive look of a baseball diamond from high above, there are other signs alerting a traveler they are flying over an American suburb. Strip malls with their abundance of neon line the streets. The millions spent on corporate advertising and branding is truly valuable when messages are delivered to those on the ground and in the sky. The yellow arches of a McDonalds in a random suburb below remind me I forgot to grab dinner before boarding the plane. My stomach immediately begins to growl with this realization brought on by one of the most recognized symbols on earth.

Suddenly, the world below is dark, a reminder of how much open land is still available even with a population topping 300 million. Miles of darkness are broken by enclaves of light, people deciding to live away from it all, yet still living in a community of neighbors and friends. Nothing demonstrates the human need for closeness and interaction like these islands of light nestled far away from the hustle and bustle of major metropolitan areas.

The pattern repeats over and over; suburb, city, suburb, darkness, suburb, city, suburb, darkness, as we cross the thousand miles I travel to get back home. As a child, I often looked up at planes flying above, in their final descent before arriving in New York, trying desperately to look in the windows of the jet. From my world below, the jetsetters were coming in from London, Paris or Frankfurt, on their way to some important business meeting downtown. Their lives seemed rich and exciting whether they were arriving on the Concord or squished in economy, achy from their trip across the pond. Life continues to move below even when air travel isolates people from the world. The view from above can be really pretty, but the true beauty in flying is the opportunity to look beyond the lights of our own city and discover the sparkle of a new place.

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