Have you ever had one of those moments where you felt totally connected to something larger than yourself? Felt like you were part of a web of caring, that your life was important and that you wouldn’t be let down? Aware that your life had value way beyond your own experience?
I had one of those experiences just a couple of days ago. I was flying through the air, not a care in the world, looking down on houses and trees and roads and people. I was perfectly calm, relaxed even, as my vision was consumed by the moving landscape, and I watched the ground whizzing by.
Was this a dream or meditative moment? Nope. You might have guessed already–I was on an airplane. Yes, it was one of those modern, yet entirely mundane moments when we were approaching the airport, and the plane banked pretty steeply such that the only thing I could see out my window was the ground, and the suburban neighborhood (with depressed home prices because of the flight paths, I’m sure) that covered it. The amateur physicist in me wondered what angle we banking, and how hard the pilot must be pulling into the bank so that we felt more connected to our seats than our arm-rests, despite the enormous pull of gravity to our right.
And it suddenly occurred to me, that without the technology and amazing engineering surrounding me, and the web of professionals guiding that technology, a human body flying at 300+ miles per hour at 5000 feet above the ground would be so terrifying as to be unbearable. To say that’s what nightmares are made of is putting too thin a cliche on it. Without that technology and the skilled professionals guiding it, death would surely be just moments away for a human body in that situation.
But there we were. Calm. Relaxed. Reading, even. And how many people made that all possible? From the pilots and flight crew, to the air traffic control, to the FAA regulating maintenance and safety standards, to the engineers, scientist, computer programmers, chemists, and dozens more professions encompassing thousands of people that are required to bring an airplane from design to lift-off. Why is it safe? Because all of those people valued human life. Safety of the passengers and crew has been the utmost of design principles. There are failsafe systems everywhere you look. The planes could even fly with one engine and no pilot. On every flight, every person is instructed to buckle their seat belt–and the plane will not take off until every passenger has. (When was the last time you buckled your seat belt in the shuttle from the parking lot to the terminal?) Any time anyone dies while in this endeavor, an intensive investigation helps to find the root cause and find ways to prevent it from ever, EVER happening again.
We do this, as a society, because we value human life. We support the idea that people who are alive should be provided the utmost opportunity to stay alive. And we’ve demonstrated through years of improving safety standards in air travel that not only do we care, but we demonstrate that caring through positive action that actually has results.
That, my friends is a transcendent experience–that my life has been entrusted to thousands who took that trust very seriously, and I lived to tell the mundane tale.