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Two years ago, I had never even seen an airplane in person. When I made the decision to go abroad for university, though, they became a constant part of my life. I’ve run to six different gates in the space of an hour in Dublin, escaped a crowd of protesters with the help of a French military policeman to almost miss my flight at CDG, and set off more metal detectors with 1 pound coins than a Saudi arms dealer at Logan. Despite these, and much more mundane, experiences, I have a little ritual every time that I board an airplane.
Rationally, I know that air travel is quite safe, and am by no means a nervous flier. I’m perfectly happy to peruse my Bernard Lewis book, or allow a 6’3″, 250-pound Swedish man fall asleep in my lap, in peace. But life is hardly predictable, as dinner in Paris after a lifetime of living hours from any skyscraper testifies. So, each time I’ve settled down into my seat, I take a picture out of the nearest window, and send the same text to my friend:
“Taking off in a few minutes. The pilot says there may be quite a bit of turbulence.
If anything happens, I love you, and tell everyone (I trust you to know who)
that I loved them.”
I’m in no doubt that he doesn’t like that text; we’ve known each other from the age of five, and consider each other siblings with different surnames. He hates acknowledging the chance I’m taking, and the others that I take in traveling alone to such far-flung places. I never doubt, though, that if something ever does happen the ebullient art major that we shared too many bad English classes with, the crotchety AP teacher who we both have an abundance of fondness for, and the Benedictine monk who laughs with him at my ability to knock over statuary when nervous will have comfort.
It was Valentine’s Day, with its bubbly pink hearts and extortions to positivity, that put me in mind of all of this. We (rightfully) celebrate the joys of romantic love today, but on this feast day for the patron saint of lovers, epileptics, and bee keepers, we should also keep in mind those that we love enough to trust them with our family and friends when we are gone. Philip Larkin, hardly the most sentimental bard of this island nation, wished that “what will survive of us is love.” He came to the conclusion that this was almost true; I think it is the exact and beautiful truth. If I fall from the sky, what will trail in my wake, more than anything else, is the thing that I felt fitting to be my last words, that I loved and did so in return, in every possible iteration.
I hope, this cloudy February 14th, that you have someone that you trust deeply enough to preserve what remains too.