It’s funny — in a way life can be described as bouncing back and forth between two phenomena: either giving a situation a bit more meaning than it intrinsically has, or not giving it quite enough. I’m always interested in my choice between the two in most situations, whether it be part of the city landscape I stumble upon, a brief interaction with a stranger, or any of the myriad tiny successes and failures that make up a day in the life. Of course the idea that an event “deserves” a certain amount of reverence is silly, but that never stops me.
I’ve mentioned before how as a kid I really wanted to be British. Europe, or my embarrassingly narrow vision of it, seemed to suit my temperament. In some ways the fantasy lingered into adulthood, and even my switch years ago from coffee to tea may have indirectly been a means to get closer to that English vibe. Enter this photo, which by its own merit wouldn’t win any awards but documents one of the most profound moments I’ve had in a while.
I was sitting alone on a flight from Paris to London to catch a connection to the US, and it was the start of what I knew would be a somber trip given the tragic reason for my return. We had been in the air only 20 minutes or so when the British Airways staff began its beverage service, and as I went through the motions in a haze of sad indifference the small monitor hanging from the top console suddenly caught my eye. It was the GPS graphic showing the plane’s current location. The image pulled me back into reality as my gaze darted from the screen down to my tray table, then out the window, back to the table, the screen, the window. I felt a sort of warm electricity in my gut and something happened that hadn’t occurred for days – the corners of my mouth started sliding out and upward. I was in the midst of an extraordinary experience.
I was having tea above the English Channel on my way to London.
And I was beaming like a crazy person.
I still don’t know what this looked like from the outside — anyone sitting across the aisle maybe witnessed a scene as unremarkable as a dude drinking a beverage out of a paper cup with a smile on his face. And I have to admit that’s really all I was doing on the outside, but inside I was literally living out a teenage dream. I had arrived somewhere somehow, a place far beyond just a beverage and a body of water, and it happened just when I needed it most. To anyone else it probably seems trivial and I almost feel the urge to apologize in a way, but I’m pretty sure I don’t need to. We all have memories of where we used to imagine ourselves — all the future experiences we concocted in daydreams hoping that one day reality would catch up. We bring them everywhere like carry-ons stowed in the overhead bins of daily life, temporarily forgotten during the journey but always just an arm’s length away. And if we’re lucky, from time to time, reality manages to catch up to fantasy for a split second and there isn’t anything better.