Looking up

Nov 12th, 2011 | By | Category: International

‘Which is nearest Roscommon or the sun?’

‘What sort of question is that?  Roscommon or the sun!’

‘Tis a simple question.  Which is nearest?  Roscommon or the sun?’

‘What do ye think?  Can ye see Roscommon from here?’

The bizarre conversation from RTE’s Killinaskully came to mind while driving westward from Port Laoise.  Looking up into the clear November sky, a vapour trail seemed to extend from the south-east to the north-west; high in the autumn air, where the temperature is fifty below, the airliner drawing the white stripe across the sky was barely visible.

There was a temptation to stop and ponder its journey.  Its north-west course would carry it where? Out across the Atlantic and then Greenland before heading south into Canada or the United States? There are stories around of computer applications that tell you information about such flights; the airline, the point of origin, the destination.  But is there one that tells you what is passing over the Slieve Blooms on a Saturday afternoon?

If it had come from Europe, it would now be well established at cruising altitude and the flight attendants would be proceeding down the aisles with their trolleys laden with drinks and mysterious trays of airline food; food where even the removal of the cover sometimes does little to assist the process of identification of what the meal might be.

There is a uniformity about air travel; one airliner experience is very similar to another.  The experiences of those who observe the high flying aircraft are far more divergent.

Visiting Austria one winter, a ski instructor confessed a fascination with the aircraft high above the Alps. He had never flown and was intrigued at the life of a Dutch woman in his ski school group who was a pilot.  It was something he could not imagine.

However great the instructor’s degree of bemusement, it must be as nothing compared to the thoughts of those who stand on the earth of sub-Saharan Africa looking up into equatorial skies. What perception can they have of those who cross continents while they have not sufficient to pay a bus fare to the local town?  Air travel provides a juxtaposition of the wealthiest and the poorest people on Earth; a few miles of altitude separate abundance and destitution.

It is absurd that those overhead are served meals they neither need nor sometimes even want, while those below have nothing; as absurd as thinking that Roscommon, out of sight, might be more distant than the sun.  Just because we cannot see things, it does not mean they are not close. Whether we see them or not, those people are standing there.


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