On Flying in Lightning Storms

Pacific Ocean

Pacific Ocean

I’ve seen a lightning storm form the air once before. We were somewhere over the ocean, I think, the Atlantic. The pilot came on to tell us there was a cloud to cloud storm out the right side of the plane. We opened our window shades to watch, in the distance, angry clouds toss streams of light to one another, a light show in the air. We were far enough away that we didn’t experience any turbulence, it didn’t feel dangerous. It was simply beautiful.

The weather in the Pacific Northwest, like much of the United States was experiencing a dry, heat wave this week. As we approached Spokane airport for the final hour of our flight the captain came on. There was a storm just south of the city, and we’d be ducking under early and flying at a lower altitude. We would remain seated, for the rest of the flight.

We pitched forward and descended in  in smooth darkness, nothing to suggest a storm lurking in the distance, still, I stayed glued to my window. Minutes later the sky was illuminated by a magnificent single strike of lightening. The clouds filtered down from the sky, obscuring the ground, lightening bolts jumped in haphazard patterns from cloud to cloud, to the ground, to no where in particular. It’s not like watching a lightning storm from the ground, head on, you see every wayward beam of light. There was still no turbulence, or sound. The inside of the cabin was eerily quite as passengers slept, or like me, kept rapt attention to the rioting light out our windows. It was surreal, to watch the world around us in beautiful chaos while our plane glided smoothly in the midst. There were no bumps, no thunder, as it was drowned out by the slow steady hum of our engine. Overlooking the wing, a tiny white light at the tip flashed rhythmically, illuminating the stream of horizontal rain. This little beacon of light, so minuscule against the blinding storm. It reminded me how powerless we were up there, how we were at the mercy of nature. Of course, I trusted the pilots, and the equipment, the radar and team on the ground. They would get us safely home.

And as if on cue, the sky cracked open as lightening reached toward us, the plane accelerating and dropping altitude, it felt like we were running. Despite the potential danger, I couldn’t look away, it was absolutely mesmerizing, waiting for the next illumination. I wished desperately to grab for my camera, to capture these incredible properties of light at play. But, I couldn’t pull myself from the window. It was strangely calming to feel completely out of control, at the mercy of others, of the whims of nature. There was nothing I could do, but watch.

Soon, it began to reced into the distance, I found myself following the last glimpses of light into the distance, oddly wishing it didn’t have to end. But in no time, we were back on the ground, a smooth landing, ten seconds and we safely rejoined the rest of the world.

My mind hasn’t been so taken, so entranced like this lately. It’s been too caught up in the worry for what happens next in the uncertain arrangement we’ve made for ourselves abroad. For the first time, since graduating college, travel has taken a back-burner position in my mind. Not to say I don’t still constantly think about travel, I do. But that fire that drives me to explore has felt somewhat dampened by the reality of uncertainty. Fear has polluted my mind. In Nicaragua, as we cruised through the streets towards the islands I felt a wave of that familiar feeling I only get when traveling, when moving. It was calm, overwhelming joy. But as immediately as the intoxicating feeling of being away kicked in, fear followed close behind. I was afraid of feeling this way, of loving something this much. It felt dangerous, because I could lose it. As time continues its relentless march, what happens if travel becomes more difficult, impossible? What if I lose what fills my soul? I feared my love of travel. And it felt, privileged, and somehow shameful.

I’ve been feeling a lot of that lately, fear, and shamefulness about what I love. Like I have to apologize, or justify, my fears for the future because some those fears don’t seem real. How can I complain that my future life might be more limited in travel when I get to travel at all? When I’ve seen so much (little) already? How can I express that, movement is the one thing that calms my relentless, overactive mind. One of the few things that brings me peace. I feel at home in the world, it feels so much a part of my being. That while micro-adventures at home are great, the freedom of the entire world is so intoxicating, it is addicting. I would sacrifice much to keep my home, out here, wherever here might be at the moment. But I’ve felt lost, lately. Unsure of anything I want. As if, I’m not allowed to want this, for it to be a driving force in my life. Just like admitting my life ambitions don’t involve “leaning in,” but rather leaning out to live and define life on my (our) terms. Aren’t we made to suffer? How dare I attempt to define a life stemming from fulfillment. To find joy in action, not acquisition. To feel passionately about social change, and lessening dependance on consumption, and emphasize more on self-production and sustainability, on health. To want to see, and be in this magnificent world.

Staring out the window of that plane, my mind blank, present, it felt meditative. It was the perfect reminder of the person I seem to be pushing away, paralyzed by a fear of admitting what I love. It helped remind me, in part, why I travel. From magnificent inspiring moments, to the simple act of movement, and everything in between. For fulfillment.

To observe the devastating beauty and power of nature in action, and the juxtaposition of calm in its wake. To fly in lightning storms.

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