We are all passengers on a plane

It strikes me as strange that people can feel so lonely on this densely populated planet. To make my point I have an exercise for you to try. Pay attention the next time a plane flies overhead.

Let your imagination take over as the roar of the jets fills your ears. Picture the people on board and try to picture individual passengers specifically.

Who are they? Maybe one is a young magazine editor from Iowa who is flying to New York to visit her mom. See the editor in your mind as she looks out the window and down upon the Meadowlands. She is looking out in order to give the couple next to her privacy.

The couple appreciates the privacy as they reel from dizziness caused by the flu. You can take this thought experiment as far as you like. Let’s say the couple caught the bug while visiting the husband’s family on their farm two hours west of Des Moines. They slept outside during their visit because she’s allergic to sheep that are often sheared in the kitchen.

In the cabin, the captain and his copilot tease each other about their divorces as they sip coffee and tend to their gauges. The captain keeps it to himself that he gets along well with his ex-wife and doesn’t tell his copilot that he’s heading to her house for dinner when the plane lands.

A rookie flight attendant brings more Cheerios to the red headed toddler who is awestruck by his first plane ride. Beyond picturing the passengers and what they are doing at the moment they are flying overhead, conjure up their pasts as well. What led them to this moment?

While the copilot had military experience, the pilot went from flying Cessnas to corporate jets before finally getting hired by Continental, a career move he now questions because of extensive company budget cuts.

The toddler is the apple of his mother’s eye and he knows it as he focuses on stacking Cheerios in the driver’s seat of his toy fire truck.

His dad focuses his camera on the wing of the plane outside his window as it slices through the clouds while his mom watches him stack one Cheerio after another. She is looking forward to showing him off to his grandma in a few hours.

This could go on and on. What are their expectations for their trips? Who will they see? The point of the exercise is to illustrate how connected the planet’s 6 billion inhabitants actually are.

Because we are wired to be social animals isolation scares us so we tend to exaggerate feelings of loneliness. The emotions that drive us to be social have an important function. But the illusion of isolation can be a nasty side effect.

Playing this game not only illustrates how many of us are at hand crisscrossing the planet at any given moment, it also highlights how much we all have in common with one another.

All parents can empathize with what it’s like to travel with a toddler. Most of us in the workforce feel the pressure exerted upon us by today’s economy and everyone could use a break from time to time.

Picturing the lives of others as they streak across the sky is a way of gaining perspective. We may not always realize it, but at any given moment, many of us are in the same boat.


About genemyers

Gene Myers is a New Jersey poet, music journalist and columnist who learned to walk twice. His weekly column is called The Joy of Life. He was awarded first place in Arts and Entertainment Writing by The New Jersey Press Association.
This entry was posted in densely populated, loneliness, lonely, shared experiences, The Joy of Life, thought experiment and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to We are all passengers on a plane

  1. mamagalen says:

    Great post, Gene! I always do this. I think that’s what makes one a writer… and a poet. I also do this: See someone on a train and think about them as if I were their mother, sister, friend… imagine their wonderful qualities as seen through the filter of someone who loves them very much…. and I am constantly “falling in love” with strangers that I never say a word to in this empathetic/ observational/ imaginary way. It makes life so interesting and rich.

  2. Gene Myers says:

    Thanks! These kinds of things also bring about empathy.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Like mamagalen, I do this all the time too: imagining where people are going, what they are thinking, who they are. I never thought of it as a way to feel more connected, although I suppose that is a natural byproduct of envisioning others’ humanity. I do, however, practice the connection technique especially on the highway: the (expletive deleted) in the BMW who is weaving through traffic is not necessarily some self-important businessman who feels his time is more valuable than anyone else’s…perhaps he is a man who just got the phone call that his wife is in labor and is racing to be by her side. ; )


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