I recently flew from Boston to the West Coast to see my oldest and closest friend.
I don't fly often, but when I do, I try to get a a window seat. Yes, there's less legroom, and yes, I have to step over people if I want to use the restroom, but there's no other way to get the view from 30K, and the view from 30K is important to me.
On this particular trip, it was especially important. My friend was dying, an incalculable loss, and I hoped that the view of the world from on high would in some small way prepare me for our last visit.
Parents should never tell their children that one of them is their favorite, and so by extension I suppose friends should never tell their friends that, either. But I have cherished every minute of the nearly 50 years my friend and I have known each other - the bad jokes, the sage comments, the sayings I still quote, the warm hugs, the astonishing art, the brilliant writing, the times we've worked together, the conversations, the meals, and even the silences, which for me were never really silent because he has always been in my thoughts, always in my heart. The day we met was a lucky one, and I'm grateful for all the lucky days since then.
Most of the ride to our last goodbye was nondescript. It was hazy across much of America that day.
Even when the haze broke, the view from those brief stretches was often distorted. Because of the sudden urgency of this trip, I'd had to make my flight plans last-minute, and the only window seat left was just behind the wing. The visual distortion from the heat of the engines imparted a spooky, shimmering quality to the world.
When we reached Washington state, however, the air cleared, the sky opened up, and for a few minutes the Cascade Mountains fell sharply into view.
In the time I spent with my friend, his friends, and his family, and in the weeks since then, I have often hearkened back to those mountains: to their steadfastness, their durability, their near-imperviousness to the passage of time and the forces of man and nature.
On this particular flight, I could see that even the fierceness of a forest fire's raging would have only a transient effect, soon forgotten in the long, long life of a mountain.
Seeing these ancient structures helped me - just a little - to put into perspective what I knew was happening with my oldest, dearest friend, and what was yet to come. Their memory helps me still.
I am of an age where the course of the dying of my parent's generation has largely completed and the thinning of my peers is in full swing, a watermark of the mortality of those of us who still remain. I've found comfort at 30K.
The subtle mix of smoke, ash, and clouds as it caressed the nearby mountains, lapping at their sides, before it, too, made its way to the Pacific recalled descriptions I'd heard, as a child, of Heaven.
Nonfiction by David J. Bookbinder
The Art of Balance: Staying Sane in an Insane World on Amazon.com
The Art of Balance: Staying Sane in an Insane World on Amazon.co.uk