Monday, November 03, 2003

Thought of the Day: Free as a bird?
Is flying still synonymous with freedom? Through the ages, the poets and children inside us all have mused about "the tent of blue" (in Oscar Wilde's words), the celestial canvas draped over the world, and longed to join the birds and explore this majestic expanse. When the Wright Brothers first loosed humans' bonds to Earth, and when Apollo astronauts later linked us to the moon, flight still served as a waking dream, a living poem, an ethereal visit to the front lobby of God's throne room. Preparing for my first airplane flight today since September 11, 2001, I was reading this article from Wired yesterday in a Best Business Writing anthology, a fascinating feature on "200 day" people (indicating the number of days they fly per year) and other very-frequent fliers. (The story conspicuously predates September 11 and the apparently related decline in air travel.) These travelers are mostly ambitious and creative business people, but after a while most of them grow numb from so much time spent in airplanes and airports, in cramped cabins, breathing stale air, eating bland food, watching blander movies, suffering aching loneliness. One traveler identifies the surest signs of frequent fliers: "The pallid complexion, red watery eyes, deeply furrowed brow, the look of hunger for home, for edible food and a sleepable bed." As I read, I could feel the weariness in the joints of these travelers, and I was struck by the irony that this quasi-catatonic state couldn't be farther from the soul-liberating dream of flight as conceived by the poets, the Wright Brothers, and the rest. How is it that racing through the clouds in a massive machine has become such a tedious chore? We may look no farther than the soul-less environs of airports or the workaholism of frequent fliers, or at the less-examined factor how fit the human body is for conditions of flight. But tonight, this once-a-year flier will cherish the bird's-eye view of the skies and the world below.

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