Friday, May 18, 2012

Grape #11: Pilgrimage to Maui: Part 1

Day 1
Thursday, May 17, 2012,
10:12 AM EDT

Our plane was third in line, then second, and then our turn for takeoff.  We got in line with the runway as the engines started to roar.  Liftoff was imminent.  Or so I thought.  Instead of accelerating forward and lifting off, our plane took the first left and got right back in line.  Hmm.  Must be a good reason.  We didn't go back to the gate.  A smaller plane went ahead of us.  Ahh, that must be it.  Sometimes the smaller planes need calm airspace, because if they lifted off right behind a big 747 or similar, they wouldn't have the stable airflow to carry them up.  Or...something like that.  The small plane took off, and the others in the line went on ahead of us.  No problem, I figured.  We lost our spot and would have to get back in cue.  Plane after plane went in front of us and took off, travelers now en route to their destination, while we just sat there.

Finally a voice sounded throughout the plane telling us there was an issue with one of the devices in the cockpit, that maintenance was going to check it out for them.  More time waiting, more and more planes taking off and going where they were supposed to go.  After a while longer, the captain explained that unfortunately the issue could not be resolved, and we would have to return to the gate.  Groans galore.  Worries about missed connections could be seen and heard around us, and we looked at one another with a half-smirk, half-concerned face. 

I closed my eyes and prayed: "God, I know that with you, all things are possible, and that despite the troubling words from the pilot and from those around me, you can make this happen.  I pray that this issue be resolved quickly, so we can get to San Francisco and then Maui on time today.  Amen.  I believe."

We arrived back at the gate and were told that a customer service agent would board to help people determine what issues and choices they had for their connecting flights.  Wasn't sounding good.  After another 10 or 15 minutes just sitting at the gate again, still in our seats on the plane, the captain said the maintenance crew was working to resolve the issue and as soon as they did, we'd be on our way.  Good news at last! 

Finally, a flight attendant announced to all on board that we should be prepared for takeoff.  The pilot anachronistically followed, explaining the issue was resolved and we'd soon be on our way.  Though we were now almost 2 hours late, the pilot explained that with our expected flight time, we'd only be about an hour late arriving into San Francisco.  Since we had a three-hour layover anyway, we will still be on schedule for Maui! 

Mahalo, God!  Thank you for the blessing in response to an otherwise frustrating and stressful start to our vacation!

11:30 AM EDT

Parcels of land everywhere below me.  Though I’m not sure where over these United States the airplane I’m flying in is traveling, it isn’t obnoxious to use the easy phrase, “somewhere in the middle.”  But up here, though you can see where parcels of land are separated from one another, you can’t see county dividers or state lines.  If we were near the Canadian border, you wouldn’t be able to see where one country began and the other ended…or vice versa.  Up here in the sky, from God’s point of view, everything below is just earth, its land and water, and occasionally its people.  “One nation under God” is really this entire planet, this universe.  Because as much as we like to put up our walls and claim space, divvy up land and separate ourselves into governments and villages, we’re all just one nation, one people, inhabiting this one rock in the universe. 

Call these thoughts too-deep for a casual flight across the country and every time I’ll wonder why human beings don’t go deep more often!  The separations of church and state become comic up here, where you can’t even tell the separations from town to town.  Those on ground level without their heads literally in the clouds like me don’t even notice the plane in the air with the guy in the seat looking down and writing about their lives.  We ignore the deep questions the same way we ignore the everyday miracles of technology.  The farmer below me in the tractor I can’t even make out from up here probably doesn’t look up and wonder if I’ve used the bathroom yet, or been served my lunch, or what movie might be playing.  And that’s okay.  But the realization of the complexity of our lives on the ground doesn’t often come until we’re away on vacation, or flying through the air in a jet plane. 

My point is, life is a lot more beautiful, a lot more wonder-filled and simply full of grace when you let yourself appreciate it from a distance.  You don’t have to buy an airplane ticket or plan a vacation to get there either.  Just walk outside your house and go across the street and look back.  Watch your family, friends, or coworkers from a distance.  Just watch them.  Watch and appreciate all around you.  Don’t just stop and smell the roses, but look at them, appreciate them, value their place in your life. 

Up above, my fellow passengers and I are flying through the air high above life-livers down on earth.  The journey through life doesn’t always give us the sight lines I have now, the appreciation of the vast planet we inhabit, but even when we’re not flying through the clouds, we can still appreciate the journey we’re on.  Walls will come tumbling down—they always do.  Field demarcations and crop separations will eventually shift and move.  Counties may even be reconfigured and state lines changed one day.  The separations are in-transit too, even if they don’t seem so right now. 

As I write this, the only thing between me and the earth are clouds and air.  Whether your head is in the clouds literally or just figuratively, it’s not a bad place to be.  And sometimes, even a cloudy perception can be a clearer one.

1:13 PM EDT

It’s a pretty good day when you can wake up in New York, take a flight over New York City, gaze down at Central Park, a little bit later find yourself over the snow-capped Rocky Mountains, and after a brief respite in San Francisco, end your day on a white-sand beach on Maui.  I’m still in flight, en route as I write this of course, but the changing weather and landscape below and around me are incredibly inspiring.  Change is a constant, even if you need to take an airplane or two to traverse such climate and geographic shifts. 

The picture below changes all the time.  One moment you see Central Park, the next corn fields, and an hour or so later crop circles everywhere.  A little while more and you find yourself above white, puffy clouds, no ground in sight.  Some turbulence and more minutes, then the white is no longer cloud but cliff, the high peaks of the mountains caked in a vanilla creamy topping of fresh winter snow—in May.  The brown jagged landscape below me now at 11:20 AM or so mountain time (what an easy way to tell what time zone I’m in!) has all the character of a creased mud pile.  And yet, with the shadows of the clouds blotching their crinkle cut edges, these mountains are still just as beautiful as any park or green field or ocean. 

The shifting landscape below me keeps reminding me of the variety found in this country I’m blessed to live in.  3,000 miles across the continent from New York to San Francisco and then southwest across the Pacific another 2,000 miles to Hawaii, and I’ll have never left the United States of America!  Change everywhere and yet all still familiar, all still home.

It’s now been 7 hours since I boarded this flight west, and though the day started rockier than any turbulence we’ve yet felt, this journey continues to be amazing.  So much to appreciate out the window here in the present, and still so, so much to look forward to in the near future!

2:45 PM EDT

Coming out of the clouds and getting back on the ground.  This can be a good thing too!  As the first leg of my voyage comes to a close, the plane is slowly descending closer to the ground and soon I’ll be told to put my netbook away for now.  Bringing me back to Earth is a good thing.  I could use a break from the altitude and the view, even if it’s just for a couple of hours inside the airport in San Francisco.  Life back on the ground is where I belong.  Having my head in the clouds has been fun though so far!

7:00 PM EDT

The boarding gate area for this flight to Maui was filled with excitement.  Though Andy and I were tired and a little out of it, we felt the excitement too, but others were really talking it up.  You got the impression that many had been to Maui before, but were overjoyed at going back.  Still, even now a half hour or more into our flight, we don’t have the level of excitement we feel will overwhelm us once we’re there.  Perhaps like the planning of the vacation itself, the reality doesn’t really hit you until you’re there.  Will check in to this blog again in a little bit once my thoughts are a bit more centered on the destination just ahead of me.

7:57 PM EDT

Andy and I are officially lost in time.  In theory, it’s only 1:57 PM Hawaii Time, but we are supposed to land around 6 PM.  Can’t imagine we still have 4 more hours on this flight though, so yeah, we’re totally confused now.  We got approximately 4 hours’ sleep last night, awake at 4:30 AM, were on our first plane for about 8 hours, in the San Francisco airport 2-3 hours, and now we’re somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, nothing but deep blue water below us. 

It’s not a bad thing to be lost in time.  This is vacation, after all.  But having some bearing on what hour this is—let alone what day it is or isn’t—wouldn’t hurt.  I just had my first mai tai of my Maui trip.  Good ol’ Trader Vic’s and made in Minnesota, but it sure tasted yummy.  I can assure you though: I was lost in time before having a drink! 

United has a game for its passengers heading to Hawaii.  You have to guess the exact minute and second that we are halfway between the North American continent and Maui.  I’m sure some on board are much better at this game than we are, so we’re not expecting to win the beautiful color guidebook to Hawaii that the winner will receive.  Still, it was fun to play.

And now, ocean behind us, ocean ahead of us, Maui will not only be welcome land again, but also a welcome paradise out in the middle of the biggest ocean on this planet.  Aloha in advance, Maui!  We can’t wait to meet you at last!

10:16 PM EDT, 4:16 PM Hawaii Time

We’re now just minutes or an hour or so away (we think/we estimate) from arriving in the Hawaiian Islands.  This second plane ride really reminds you how far away Hawaii is from New York.  It’s just so, so, so far away, that your mind doesn’t even grasp this fact until you’ve crossed the continent and then taken a second plane out west across the ocean.  I’m sure my friends from Australia and New Zealand laugh at this fact, but it certainly makes me feel for them and the sacrifice of time it takes to come to New York when they do!

Anticipation is officially high.  The sluggishness, sleepiness, and apathy our zombie-like brains have been experiencing the last couple of hours is suddenly replaced with a renewed excitement of what is about to happen.  The flight attendant just announced we have about 35 minutes remaining!  Soon the islands will come into view.  Paradise will soon welcome us and reward our long day of travel with an aloha of awesome.

6:30 PM Hawaii Time, 12:30 AM NY Time

The car rental lot view: volcano + palm trees + a pack of roosters.  We've now come to the airport hotel where we are for the first night.  Sean: "We’re in Hawaii!  We’re on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean!"  Andy: "And we’re hungry."

With that thought, we’re heading out to a local restaurant that comes highly recommended: Da Kitchen.  Hoping da food is tasty!

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