There are few things I find more comforting than being on an airplane.
Once the HI-SEAS mission ended, the running around began. Our mission doesn’t end with stepping out of the habitat. Instead, we jump into debrief week – an opportunity to speak with all of the researchers to talk about the mission, improvements to the research projects, and to learn a bit of information that we were not allowed to know during the mission.
The week consisted of in-person interviews, Skype calls, and difficult goodbyes. Once it was over, I raced around Hawaii with a few friends to explore. After all, I had been living on the Big Island for 8 months without actually seeing any of it.
I stayed with various friends in different locations ranging from small cabins in the middle of the centipede-filled forest to the busy home of a native Hawaiian family and their pack of dogs. I was surrounded by gracious hosts and loving people, yet it felt very overwhelming. I would sit at a kitchen table, TV blaring in the background complimenting three or four people speaking to me at once. In these moments, my mind told me to smile but my gut told me to jump out the fire escape.
Though my trip around Hawaii was a fun-filled one: cliff-diving with a stranger, standing next to active lava flows, and giving a talk at a major National Park, there wasn’t much opportunity to decompress and process.
I couldn’t help but feel a bit guilty at feeling strangled by the warmth others were showing me.
In fact, I didn’t feel like I could breathe until I was sitting in the warm embrace of a cheap plastic RyanAir chair.
Between Past and Present
Flying always feels like home. As soon as I sit down, it’s as if I have touched air-goo: finally safe.
There’s no more security to go through. Maybe for some unknown reason, I will be tackled to the ground at my destination – perhaps I brought gum into Singapore or something.
Either way, for the time I’m in the air, there is only the comfort of a familiar routine.
The stewardesses and stewards will give their safety speech. I will stow my tray table and bag below the seat to avoid making them remind me with disappointed eyes. Within a few minutes, the plane will begin racing forwards before lifting, almost unnoticeable at first, into the sky. Seconds later, my stomach will register the drop and my mind will imagine myself what it would be like to fly without a machine. The plane will climb, turning the airport into just one small square among other geometric shapes of cities, farmland, and mountains.
I will look forward to the complimentary drink alongside an ice-filled plastic cup. I will be inexplicable excited for the meal whose contents are individually packed, and will give each one special attention. It’s Lunchables, for adults.
Traveling is about transformation – leaving one world and entering another. You may embark from one location to reach another where words are no longer understood, or where offensive behaviors become compliments.
The transit, however, is about routine. For me, it’s a kind of home.
When we’re up in the sky, we are hanging for a moment in-between a past and future place of existence.