So I’m en route to DC where I’ve got twenty minutes to catch a connecting flight to Philadelphia. I’m in a strangely wakeful state despite the early hour, a cocktail of adrenaline and caffeine pumping through my system. We’re descending. They’re going to turn the cabin lights on soon.
I crack my window a sliver because most people are still sleeping and I don’t want to be that person. A ray of red peeps out, reflecting a squarish blotch on the back of this guy’s head in front of me. It’s very red. If I push my face against the cold pane I can see a small section of the sky and land.
I’m traveling to see my dad’s family in southeastern Pennsylvania. His mother is 93, and I haven’t seen her in a few years. She has dementia, and her mind has slowly declined. She will not know me when I see her. In fact there is much of her life she no longer remembers.
The cabin lights flip on and I slide the pane down with careless abandon. The sun is just coming up, the Potomac shiny gold as it curves and slips through the world beneath my feet. It’s very dead, the land that is. It reaches out against the pinkish-red light, like arms stretching in the morning, recalling routine.
I’m struck by its permanence. Soon the land will change from brown to green, the bare trees blooming full, the harsh cold fading to new warmth, obediently following a familiar pattern of flow and existence—years upon decades upon centuries of wakeful remembering.
Thoughts of my grandmother and this perpetual earth beneath me have similar effects. I feel like I’m holding the tension of my aliveness and my mortality somewhere in the pit of my stomach and I have this desperate urge to remember, to talk to everyone around me at once so I can hear as many stories as possible before it’s too late.
The plane hits the runaway, and I look up. The red blotch is no longer on the man’s head in front of me. I wonder where he gets his hair cut. How long does it take? Does he go to a barbershop or a hair salon? What does he talk about while he waits?
I sneak a down glance at my watch. Fifteen minutes before my next flight boards. I quickly slip my bag over my shoulders and maneuver myself into the aisle. I’d better hurry.