Waving at planes

Wednesday, July 6th, 2016
  • Waving at planes

    When I was a kid, I sometimes used to lie on the grass in our back garden looking up at the sky, picking out objects, and finding faces in the clouds as they moved in slow motion far above me.

    Often, among the hazy wisps and cotton wool constellations, there were white lines drawn by distant jets that shimmered in the summer sun. I’d lie there and watch them as they cut through the clouds, disappearing and reappearing, traveling at speeds that seemed only a little faster than those I could achieve on my bicycle.

    As the jets flew into the distance, melting into the summer blue sky, I’d give them a little wave, the kind you might give a child looking back at you from the rear seat of a car as it drives away.

    My Dad was often working in the garden, tending his beloved flower beds or doing something similarly green-thumbed. From time to time I remember asking him where a plane was going. His answer was always the same and often given without so much as an upward glance. “France,” he’d say, and with the kind of trust only children possess, I’d simply lie there and wonder what it must be like to go to France, or indeed anywhere, in the kind of plane that threads an evaporating trail across the sky.

    Of course, they weren’t all flying to France; that was simply my Dad’s answer to most of our childhood geographical questions. We’d be at Southend beach in Essex, and he would point toward Kent just across the mouth of the River Thames saying, “Look, you can see France.” But that was back in the days when trips to Danbury Common and Hylands Park seemed like adventures that were far from home when in reality they were no more than a twenty-minute drive away from our house in Chelmsford.

    Nowadays, I think I might be the only ‘grown-up’ who still waves at planes. Their distant vapor trails look so peaceful, and still they seem to move slower than anything around me.

    I don’t know what it is about them that fascinates me so. But even now, all these years later, I still watch them draw a line under the heavens before giving them a little wave to send them on their way, to wherever that might be.

    I think I like the fact that a tale is unfolding before my eyes. No matter how routine the journey, there is always the possibility of new experiences and adventures. Perhaps even the kind of events that become sewed into the very fabric of that which makes us the people we are, creating the kind of milestones by which we measure our befores and afters.

    I like to watch the setting sun whenever I can, to have a moment of pause as the sun disappears into someone else’s day. No two sunsets are ever the same. The sky fills with saturated shades of reds and oranges, fading into deep dark blues. It’s then when the distant planes look their most alluring as they make their way toward the horizon. To me this is what hope looks like; a clear sky and a plane chasing the sun, leaving only a vapor trail fading in its wake.

    I know they can’t see me as I wave. They don’t need to see.
    I’m not waving for them… I’m waving for me.

    This post was adapted from a ‘Meanwhile article‘ I wrote thirteen years ago when I was living in the UK. I’ve made a few minor alterations, but it’s essentially the same piece of writing. I decided to adapt this piece for 366 because it felt like a good fit for the picture, and also because the photograph was taken in France. You can read the original piece here.