amsterdam to wien

When I arrived in Amsterdam on my way to Vienna, I had to digitally check into my transfer flight. Per usual, I wasn’t left with many options. Standard economy had all middle seats and a few upper class seats left. Surprisingly I’ve travelled several thousand miles, running on less than 7 hours of sleep in an almost 48 hour period, with three total flights now, and my arm hasn’t bothered me once. A modern day miracle I suppose. So I wasn’t about to let anyone bump my right arm this close to my destination. I looked at the prices, just under a hundred euro to bump up to a window seat. Not quite exasperated, but not quite enthralled by my trip so far, I bit the bullet.

When the pass finished printing I noticed the boarding time – 11:15 a.m. Not bad considering it was five past ten, or so I thought. It’s a good thing I wear a watch, a better thing that I made sure to set it to give me the time in three different time zones, one of which being Amsterdam.

It was 11:05 a.m.

And as this dawned on me, so did the fact that I had not a clue what gate I was supposed to be heading toward. Frantically my eyes darted across the ticket – Gate C. What gate did I get out of, E? It was at this moment I was able to finally tell the difference between what it’s like not getting enough sleep and not getting any sleep for the better part of two days. I got dizzy moving from right to left to right again as I tried to determine what direction to head to. It was Gate E on either side of me, the only difference was one endless hall ascended in gate numbers, the other descended. I decided to go with the latter since C preceded E.

I was made for moments like this, and ironically was equipped to act accordingly. Thanks in part to my new Hoka One Ones, the custom ordered shoes I had bought only days before being dealt a heavy blow from my doctor that I was indefinitely benched from being active this triathlon season, my legs not fatigued by the travel due to me wearing long compression socks the entire trip, and mind numbingly repetitive days in the gym pushing leg weights and walking stairs – my humbling silver lining, I was able to break into a full out sprint through the airport.

While I am, unfortunately, not being paid to endorse them, I want to also acknowledge Samsonite for the remarkable ability to design carry on luggage that maneuvers so well a sprinting athlete can narrowly weave between casual airport walkers at full speed – and with great ease.

Now that the shameless plug is over, to the sprint.

So the gate ended up being on the exact opposite end of the airport – convenient of them, right? Remarkably I got there only two minutes past the designated boarding time – though I was disappointed to see not only was everyone queued up, no staff member seemed anywhere near the gate to begin the boarding process. Twice now this trip I’ve had to sweat for bothersome reasons, and I haven’t gotten to my initial destination.

It was almost 11:30 a.m. by the time boarding started. And sure enough, even in upgraded class the cabin was rightfully stifling with no flow of cold cabin air. Several unbearably long minutes later we had started off down the runway. I finally had the good sense to turn a new feature of my watch on, as to entertain myself with how fast the plane needed to actually go before getting off the ground.

Here’s what I saw:

As the plane lurched into a climb, I glanced out my window. Once again I became all to familiar with how time seemed to slow in those moments. I know I managed to record some of it with my phone, as futile tried to capture what I felt – sadly I was only able to record what I saw.

The details of Amsterdam, the beauty and strangeness of it, fell away. All the details that made that place unique, all the properties that gave it it’s identity became smaller and smaller as I grew further and further away from it. Until it no longer resembled Amsterdam. Until the Netherlands no longer resembled the Netherlands. In fact, what it did resemble to me, was a little bit of the farm lands somewhere west of Virginia on the way back to California. I suppose if I were to grow further away from the Netherlands, and Europe as a whole, it might resemble the entire United States, or China.

I drifted into my own little infinity as we approached cruising altitude. Transfixed on this thought of uniqueness and similarities. As a person I may be unique, or entirely not unique – but that’s besides the point, but put me together with a group and we are no more of a person than we are of a people. I thought about the people living below me, the Dutch, the Germans. I thought about the men and women in the Middle East, on both sides of ideology and industrialized war-profiteering. I thought about vagrants and I thought about the kids I get to meet.

I thought about how we are all so unique and yet at the same time all too similar. Most importantly I thought about our ability to love each other as persons but not as people. I’ll concede the fact that we may be people who love people – rather widely, not deeply. If we loved people, truly loved them, would there ever be war? What about famine? Would there be laws that so clearly act in violation of love – especially between just two persons?

Leaving Amsterdam, I thought a lot about love. I thought a lot about the kind of love that I want to know, and the kind of love I want to live to show.

When I left that infinity and looked back out the window I saw something entirely new. Something I’ve never experienced before in all my years of flying. The scenery had changed, and instead of endless skies, grounds, or seas, I saw something in between. Patches of ground impossibly visible through the deepest of blue skies, with patchy clouds that stretched to the horizon. Each cloud was small in size, but was moving fast with the high altitude winds in the direction opposite of the plane.

I was sailing. I was sailing on a ship 30,000 feet above sea level. The clouds were white caps on this choppy sky breeze that rattled the hull of our vessel and we pushed on at over 217 knots. I wasn’t quite the Captain, but I felt pretty confident that I was the only one on the plane thinking these thoughts, so I rightfully imagined myself at the helm, and then I realized, I am at the helm. I’m at the helm of my life.

In one of my favorite poems, Invictus, William Henley once wrote,

“It matters not how straight the gate,
how charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate,
I am the Captain of my soul.”

I steer this ship, the vessel may groan, the haul may crack, but this is my ship and light on the horizon or not, I was made for this. I was made to see this endless night through in hopes to either find safety in the sound, or make way until morning.

The food service cart came, tomato juice was had – extra pepper to substitute for the lack of extra pickle juice. And I made a note to remember this, and to acknowledge it – and to acknowledge the day for what it was. The most interesting day of my life, as I say about every day:

Today is the most interesting day to be alive, and I am so grateful.

Song On My Mind:

Jason Isbell – Flying Over Water

and on Spotify: