Reflections during air travel

When I arrived at my departure gate in Istanbul Ataturk Airport , I noticed that my right hand was smeared with sticky dried blood. Blood. And the first thought I had was of relief. Too often modern life feels like an absurd battle without a semblance of a fight or the dignity of blood and battle scars.

I had just landed in Istanbul about 45 minutes before, anxiously awaited my checked bag in the claim, and been told by two solicitous young employees that I needed to get to the international terminal as soon as possible–they assured me that my bag would be sent there when it arrived. I dashed past endless aisles of ticket counters, found the right one, was told that my suitcase was in fact still in the domestic terminal and for a couple tense minutes weighed the two choices of making either my flight or rescuing my luggage. Wearily resigned myself to lost luggage, got my ticket and fast-walked over to immigration, waited in the immigration line convinced I would neither see my belongings nor make my flight, waited for the immigration officer to do whatever it is they do, grabbed my passport and made a running beeline to the gate. Arrived there, only to find a bulging line of thirty-plus passengers who had not yet entered gate security. After spending 45 minutes rushing, I spent an hour waiting.

Why does modern life seem like a race to wait?

At that moment, a bloody palm and fingers seemed like a welcome catharsis, or at least distraction. I battled the dragon, and there’s the wound to prove it.

Following a more lucid train of thought, I recognized that my hand had been cut by a shard of glass from a broken çay bardağı (Turkish tea cup) in my carry-on. My anxiety spiked again. Shit. Would Delta confiscate my remaining tea cups as potential lethal weapons?

Fortunately, after a Kafkaesque labyrinth of at least three different security stations and four different passport checks, my teacups were neither confiscated nor was I added to the international registry of teacup terror suspects. I miraculously made it to my seat, basked in the recent assurance that my baggage did make it into the international terminal and onto the plane, and nursed my bleeding knuckle.

The flight stewardess handed me my still-steaming meal tray. Since I was sitting in back, the cabin had long ago filled with the sharp crinkling of plastic as passengers unwrapped their meals. I slowly began to strip the coverings off my own main course. I was famished but felt reluctant to eat.

As I peeled the finicky plastic sheaths off the flimsy boxes, my movements restricted by the effort not to elbow my seat neighbor next to me and the stewards in the aisle, I was struck with the thought that my ancestors once brought down live mastodons with their bare hands. Raw meat steaming with contact from frigid air. Nobody fed us dainty little TV dinners back then. How did I end up in this sterile world sanitized of true danger and physical exertion?

Hunched over a tray table, arms drawn in, peeling foil off of flimsy plastic bowls–is this the realization of my potential? How is this my destiny? I had a momentary urge to fling the entire meal off my finicky plastic tray table, rip the table off the seat-back, and proceed on some kind of bloody cannibalistic rampage.

Then I looked out the window. My distant ancestors could not fly, could not traverse the Atlantic in six hours, I admitted. I also remembered I was very hungry. So I ate placidly. Not as good as freshly-maimed mastodon, I reasoned, but still satisfying.


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