Opening the shade on the airplane window, I see the sun setting on the day that never was.
For all practical purposes, it is Wednesday, November 6, 2013. This day has been a jumbled adventure of time travel, soaring across the time-space continuum.
I am in the midst of an 11 hour leg of my journey to Doha, Qatar, from New York’s JFK Airport, and have already been in transit for more than 24 hours, enroute to my final destination, Kathmandu, Nepal. Our flight left NYC at 10:20 p.m. on November 5, and arrives in Doha at around 6 p.m. the following day. In the meantime, my November 6 experience is a compressed one – 20 hours of technical time-as-we-know-it, experienced in the aforementioned 11 hours. Cool, huh?
Unless there are astounding developments in technology over the rest of my lifetime, I like to think of air travel as the closest I’ll get to teleportation. Think about it: you board this massive steel bird in one place, and through the magic of physics and time zones go soaring off the ground to a different part of the world, experiencing a massive jump through the hours of the day. You shut your eyes and maybe your window shade, and when you wake up, you’re there. Just like that.
For me, that moment of teleported self-awareness happened at about 5:30 p.m. Qatar time. For the past several hours I had seen the white light of day (day over the Atlantic, day over Europe) peeking through the space around the shade. In my dazed travel stupor, it looked like light streaming through the cracks of a door, like I could have opened it and walked out into a room flooded with inhibited sunlight.
Now its the end of the day. I adjust my positioning in the seat and yank up the shade.
Its a clear day over the Middle East, and where better to watch the sunset than from 33 thousand feet high? The orange orb of the sun slides down into the horizon, like a water droplet on a car window. I’ve always been amazed by how quickly the sun seems to disappear when you’re watching it, as though it can hardly bear the amount of attention it’s being paid. Slinking away in beautiful shyness. It disappears around the curve of the Earth – at this point of my journey, only it goes back the way we came. The sky itself is a delicate hombre of orange, pink and blue, growing into deeper shades of the latter as time goes on.
Looking down, shades of land and water appear, muddy, dark, and untamed from the recently set sun. At just after 6 p.m. the city lights appear, and a ribbon of yellow light (highway? Train tracks?) twists its way along the ground.
Flying, I find I never really have a perspective on speed until you see another aircraft in the distance. The in-screen television consoles dole out estimated ground speeds for curious travellers, but those numbers remain just that, rather than a believable value of how quickly my body is hurtling through the air. Tonight there was another plane I saw at just this time, one flying parallel with a streak of pink cloud, fast and smooth, like a floating monorail.
November 6, you remain a stranger to me. I travelled across your daylight, but was not a part of it.