A Perspective from 34,000 Feet

Did you know the outside air temperature is -78° at 34,000 feet? Or that it’s possible to convince a planeload of people that it’s nighttime in the middle of the day simply by turning out the lights and closing the blinds? 

Did you know that thrifty, normally rational people will pay $2.64 for a 2-ounce bag of M&Ms in an airport when they’d scoff at the idea anywhere else? And that people only feel the urge to go to the bathroom when the Fasten Seatbelts sign is on?

I’m not a world traveler. I’m like the lady behind me in line who, when asked if she was a Preferred Access customer, replied, “No, I’m just an ordinary person.” I’ve spent most of my life within a 25-mile radius of my house, but occasionally, when life calls me to an adventure far from my home sweet home, I go. 

Such was the case recently. 

I was seated on a plane that holds four times more people than our church sanctuary, roughly 350 people. I’d flown almost 2,800 miles and had 4,285 more to go. I’d eaten dinner out of a cardboard box, gone to the bathroom in a room the size of a broom closet, and taken a nap in the middle of the afternoon for the first time since I had the flu. 

There were three of us strapped into an area the size of the backseat of my Toyota Corolla, and nobody was fighting. Alaska was on the horizon, and the East Coast was just a memory. 

The sky was the color of dust bunnies when I boarded the plane. Heavy clouds hung low, spritzing me with moisture. As the plane approached the runway, raindrops made tiny vertical streams on the window. Just before takeoff, the streams leveled out, slinging the silver trails sideways until the wind whisked them away. The misty cloud bank surrounded our plane like a thick sheet of lint pulled from the dryer compartment. 

We began to climb, and brilliant sunshine pierced the shroud and streamed through the windows. Squinting, I groped for the sunglasses I hadn’t worn in days.

The dust bunny clouds changed from sooty grey to bright white and billowed up in massive heaps. Through the cumulus fluff, I could spot tiny houses and miniature office buildings. 

I’ve lived long enough to know that life has its share of grey days. Sometimes they come and go. Other times they come and stay. Sometimes we think the sun will never shine again, and life will be colorless forever. 

My recent altitude adjustment reminded me that my perspective from the ground is very limited. All I see is what’s around me. It’s real, but it’s not all there is. 

I suspect that if I could mount up to the heavens like I did recently, it would be easier to remember that the sun never ceases, and it will shine again in my life. 

“As the heavens are higher than the earth,” God reminds us through the prophet Isaiah, “so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (55:9). 

If the skies are grey outside your window today, take comfort. The sun has not gone out. It will shine again.

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