Take Off

Sunny Savannah is behind us. The month of December 2013 must now stay content with becoming a memory, a welcome escape from America’s winter. But not for too long. We land in Detroit, and as we prepare to board our final hour-long flight, it starts snowing, slowly, then a steady fury.

Waiting to board. Detroit to BWI

We board. The plane begins to circle around, as if contemplating the implications of a real take-off. The Captain announces that they are going through a de-icing process. I’m seated right behind the right wing, and I can see the caking of ice on it. The clouds above are a forbidding gray (I’m still learning to spell “gray” the American way – I don’t know why I have to… the “grey” fog of twice-colonized minds… but that’s a blog for another day.)

The snow is not letting up, and I’m worried that we may not take off. 18 hours of sitting from Kenya is enough butt time in planes and airports. The buttocks get sore and prickly. One must not sit too long through a situation. The flesh you sit on will always fight back. You must then get up and move, do something, do what scares the daylights out of you.

I have seen this many times. People just sitting there. Sometimes praying flamboyantly in public squares with vicious desperation. Africans tend to do that a lot. I’m not averse to praying, which I personally do; I’m saying don’t do an idle thing so long thinking you’re changing things while in essence, you’re too scared and ashamed to admit that you are too lazy to do the work of de-icing a situation. This get-up work would in fact allow you to take off from stagnation.

Treacherous weather from my window

After almost an hour, the plane lines up its nose against the runway, ready for take-off. It still didn’t look good. Outside, the falling snow thwarted my visibility, taunting my vision of where I wanted to go in the coming year, what I wanted to achieve, how I wanted to get there, making me falter in my new year’s belief that I will get “there” this time around. The blurry look of things momentarily scared me, made me think we really shouldn’t take off.

Then a sour bile of memories rushed forth and filled my gut; memories of a year strewn with false starts, aborted take-offs, and heavily invested de-icing processes that thawed the situation yet left me stuck on the ground for fear of taking flight. What happened to your plans for this-and-that? Friends ask. And you mumble some silly explanation where someone or something else is to blame for your not taking off.

It’s utterly ridiculous, how sometimes, in cautious wisdom (or so we convince ourselves), we wait for the clouds to clear, the snow to stop falling, the ice to thaw out, the rain to abate, and when the sun actually shines through, we still sit there, all the obstacles gone, yet stupidly satiated in the new warmth, our desires to take off to new heights all forgotten. A year comes to an end, and we are still stuck on the runways of our dreams. You try to blame the ice storms that came before the thaw, but really, the sun did eventually shine, and you got lazy, you procrastinated, you let stupid in.

The plane started moving, the engine sounded wrong, the take-off was too bumpy, and the vessel was thrown about as it struggled to break through the falling snow, the unrelenting freeze, the brick wall of grey clouds solidly looming above. Preston reached out and held my hand, his face squinting worrisomely as the engine got strangely louder, as if something was about to snap. He knows something about planes, I’d worry if he worried, and the creases on his brow were my cue to worried.

Up, up and clear!

The pilot pushed the vessel up to meet the gray wall with steely determination. The thick clouds swirled about in dizzying waves as we rocked in turbulence. Nothing was visible. I said a prayer, in thanksgiving for the wonders of life and love so far experienced, trying to forget that sometimes take-offs can be the end as we know it. I held my breath. Whatever may come—and suddenly, whoosh! We broke through. The sun shone above us with a fierce burst of life, and below us, a fluffy bed of clouds showed off a deceptive calm. Thing is, you can never get to your destination without take-off.

First published Jan 7, 2014 under the title “Breaking Through the Clouds”

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