Suspension: An Essay on Flying

Suspend (verb)
Temporarily prevent from continuing or being in force or effect.
Hang from somewhere.

No matter how often I fly, my body never feels prepared for that moment when the plane leaps off the ground.

I have been on planes often enough to know the routine well…the taxying, the turning, the standing still, the roar, the power, the acceleration, and then the rise.
My body has memorized the process well. There’s the vibration beneath, the gentle but forceful pushing against the seat, the thuds and bumps of the wheels on the imperfect tarmac, and the tense twisting of the neck to catch a glimpse of the receding view.

It has also internalized the sensation of being 36,000 feet above its death, the white noise that shuts it off from the world, the constriction of the belt and the miniscule leg space, the slight nausea, and the sudden urge, almost every time, to leave the seat every time the seat-belt sign is on.

But the leap, no.

It can never get used to the feeling of a sinking stomach and the dizzying liberation from gravity that hits it at that precise moment when the rear wheels of the plain disentangle themselves from the runway.

At that moment, it is suspended.

It is in between states, no longer speeding on the runway but not yet flying with assurance. It still does not know if the plane is going to lose will or direction and tumble back to the ground or if it will persevere and continue its ascent.

It is the uncertainty, anxiety, and exhilaration of the first time, every time, that gets me. And at that moment, just a few instants before being reassuringly swamped by the drudgery of flying, I know I am alive.

I hate risk. I don’t remember ever being drunk. I don’t like wearing masks. I’m almost always first to appointments. I don’t miss deadlines. I control, or try to control, that which can be controlled in my life. I plan, then. And I want to know. Too much. The leap takes this away from me and puts me somewhere else, in a state of absolute helplessness. And this makes me feel alive.

The racing car driver, the bungee jumper, the parachutist, the Wall Street gambler know that they cannot know in those moments of suspension. And it makes their heart race. Perhaps, this is also why our body feels like devouring the world—against all logic and ethical expectations—when we are faced by the death of the other. It could have been us. For a moment, though, we’re suspended. And we feel alive, even at that moment when we may give anything not to be.

And as I write this here I realise there is another moment in flying my body can never be indifferent to, that instant when the wheels touch the ground again, landing. It’s at that moment that the plane seems to come to life, again. It garners what energy it has left to fight. It roars and rages, pulling. It risks losing its footing, swerving, veering, slipping. It’s tempted to leap off again but must hold, slow, stop. And within seconds, it’s as if none of this has ever happened.

I look for my mobile phone, turn it on, wait for a signal. ‘Just landed’, I type. ‘See you soon. Love u xx.’

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