The straightest line from most places in the US to Europe isn’t a straight line across a map, but it’s an arc that follows the natural curvature of the Earth. The flight from San Francisco to Frankfurt seems to go almost due North, well into Canada and over Greenland before finally following its arc back down into Northern Europe. The pilots really do understand that taking the shortest distance between two points often looks counterintuitive to the uninitiated.
I’m in the air over North East Canada right now, flying home from London. I’ll stop off at George Bush International in Houston, before connecting to San Francisco. I’m in an aisle seat, but if you were here with me to crane your head to look out the window, you’d see an ethereal turquoise glow casting itself across the wings, and coming through the windows.
The glass on the Dreamliner might be polarized, but I think it’s because we’ve just passed over Greenland, and are still very close to the North Pole. The color is what you would imagine flying through the northern lights must be like.
I’ve just spent time with people I know in Eastern Europe and in London. People born in Eastern Europe, people born in France, people born in New Zealand, people born in Egypt. As I fly over Canada, I’ll pass by Toronto where I have a number of friends. I’ll land briefly in Houston where my closest friend lives with his wife and brand new daughter, where girls I have loved in the past live. I’ll stop off for a moment, gather my suitcase to present to customs, and then hop my final flight back home. All told, I’ll be traveling for nearly 17 hours, not counting an hour and a half on the Tube in London.
Traveling over and through these cities makes me think of the strong connections I share with people in each of these cities. When I visit, I immerse myself in their lives as much as possible, wearing their local culture like a jersey. But I will eventually be back up in the air again, globally disconnected from each of them, looking at them from a reserved place flying overhead, connected with a line on the map.
I feel at home on the plane. In transit I feel more at peace than anywhere else. Moving from place to place, but not quite settled ever, or at all. I like being up in the air watching turquoise from another world peek through the windows, telling me we are safe in a place beyond time and where the normal rules do not apply. We are up in the air and distant and safe and removed from the daily toil of life on the ground. We live in the clouds, and do not have to face the reality of gravity, or coming back down.
I love to travel, but need a good 4-6 weeks on the ground between heavy bouts of plane time. However, once I have been in one place for more than a few weeks, I start to grow restless. It’s time to board a plane again. I’ve always had trouble sitting still, but I don’t know that I ever suspected I’d grow constantly restless for travel. Even turbulence, which used to make me wish for Valium, has begun to feel relaxing.
With all this travel, there is a yearning for a place to belong. When you have a sense that you haven’t discovered where you’re supposed to belong, you always feel in transit. If you don’t know where your home is, you’re always on your way there. Being in transit is as close as you ever get.
The road home winds me from place to place. From Bulgaria to London to Canada and to San Francisco. Home seems to be getting closer, but never quite arriving. Like the last leg of a transatlantic journey, the last few hours take the longest.
I keep looking at the map to see where the plane is. Now over Canada. Now over the Midwest. The arc of the map from London to Houston takes you so far North it seems like the pilots are taking a detour. It’s actually the shortest route back where you came, and you will arrive.
But in the meantime I wonder, “how can I actually find my way back home?” How do will I recognize a place that I’ve never been before? Will the sense of belonging seem foreign? Would I grow restless and wish I was on the move again? Somewhere in transit between point A and point B.
How does anyone find a single place on the map to call home? Is it possible to arrive at a place and a people you’d be grateful to rise and meet the day every day alongside for the rest of your life?
I keep hoping to find an answer to the following question: “what is it that makes us belong somewhere?”
The best answer I have is that it’s the people. The people who you rely on. The people always have a couch for you to crash on when you need a place to stay (London and Bulgaria). The people that you love and who love you back (Houston), and who you can be yourself around (Every stop along the way), the people who let you make a mistake, lose your cool, and are there in the midst of all that life can throw at you. And you’d do the same.
The common thread weaving everything together is remembering that they love you and you love them, and you stay committed to that love. No matter what, you remain certain that they’ll be there for you, and you’ll be there for them.
This place called home exists somewhere. I believe that we’ll all find it if we look long enough. That’s why I’ll keep wandering at 30,000 feet until I finally arrive. Until home finally arrives as well.
I hope this helps.
Austin W. Gunter