Written January 6, 2013
The wake-up call this morning came at 3:45 am. Ecuadorian standards dictate that international travelers must arrive at check in three hours before flight time in order that the luggage can be thoroughly searched for illicit drugs. Apparently, from the condition of my suitcase, this involves peeking at my underwear. This meant that we needed to be packed, caffeinated and bused to the airport by 5 am for our eight o’clock flight. And I am NOT a morning person. I am currently somewhere over Central America en route to Miami. In Miami we will pass through customs before boarding a flight to Dallas/Ft. Worth. After another layover we change planes for our flight to San Diego. I expect we will be home by midnight or a little later, twenty hours after departing from Guayaquil and forty two hours out from San Cristobal, The Galapagos.
While I am not as unreservedly enthusiastic about air travel as we all used to be, I have no fear of flying. I attribute my confidence in the air to a recurring dream that I have had ever since I was a teenager. In my dreams, I am a passenger on a plane which crashes. Each time I dream of air travel, I dream of a plane crash, and each time, I survive. The circumstances of the dream change every time I have it. In one iteration, the plane collides with the sheer walled side of a mountain, coming to rest on a narrow ledge which I must traverse in order to survive. I am afraid of heights. In another, the plane comes to a gentler rest on a four lane highway in the midst of a hilly green country, its wings rising and falling as we glide to a stop. In another dream, the pilot is forced to ditch us over open water. My clothes weigh me down heavily, but for once, I am grateful to be an excellent swimmer.
In my fourth year of medical school I became friends with a man who is now a professional artist and photographer, Neelon Crawford. He honored me with a gift of a black and white photograph taken through the window of an old DC-10. The picture reveals the airplane’s wing, sleek as a seal, yet blackened with dirt tracking sooty streamers from the rivets. The day I got the photo back from the framer, I wrote in my journal, “An airplane wing is a glorious thing.” Despite the inconveniences of air travel, I still believe that. And if this plane suddenly plummets from the sky, come find me. I’ll be the one smiling on the way down. As I said, I always survive.
I’ll get back to writing about cancer soon!