Three shooting stars - A reflection on life (6 minute read)1 April 2017
Night flight over Central India, between Doha and Hanoi. Thousands of miles from the place I call home, flying through one of those dark nights where millions of stars are illuminating the expanse above and just as many lights and people on the ground pass by in slow motion. With my body still in the European time zone, it feels as if I’m residing in a time capsule that is suspended somewhere between the surface and the infinity of the universe above. Time, distance and perspectives become completely relative if I let my thoughts wander for a minute. At home I’m missing another birthday party I was invited for; one of the many drawbacks of this job that I willingly accepted when I choose to pursue this career. The unique views and perspectives come with a price. What do you want to be when you grow up? 10-year old Christiaan; ‘A pilot!’
This time of the year, the earth is facing the ‘faint’ part of the milky way, with the bright galactic core invisible before sunrise at this time of year. But when there is no light pollution from the moon or other nearby light sources, even this dim band of stars becomes visible for the naked eye in the right circumstances.
Three meteorites fall through the earth’s atmosphere during this exposure, leaving bright trails of purple, white, blue, green and yellow that are nature’s reward for the those that take the time to look out and appreciate the views in the celestial heavens above.
We dim the cockpit lights and when time and workload allows, I often lean over the instruments to place my face next to the heated window and enjoy the unique view on the world from my cockpit. Watching the occasional moonlight reflect on the rivers and lakes, counting the shooting stars or following one of the many satellites or the International Space Station when they pass by.
Three shooting stars.
Instantly I think about three friends and colleagues that recently heard they are untreatably sick and will not be around on this world much longer. The news came as a shock to me, but I can only begin to imagine the devastation it brought to those young families. Young children that will have to grow up without their father. Lives ended before they even properly started. Personalities that never reached their full potential, hardly able to leave a lasting footprint on this world before they depart on their last flight into the West.
The very thought of hearing that I’d only have a few weeks to live is the scariest thing I can imagine. I’ve been involuntary close to dying a few times, felt the taste of imminent death in my mouth and knew the curtain was about to close any moment. But by luck and partially some unexplained almost super-natural inner force I managed to stay alive so far.
Yet for some young people that I shared cockpits and flights with in the past, the bad and fatal medical news has become a grim reality just recently. No fight, no chance to take it up against their attacker or questionable fate.
It makes me think though; if I would have to accept the fact that my life ended in a few weeks from now, how would I look back on the life I’ve lived and choices I’ve made?
From a young age I’ve been driven by the idea that I have to achieve as much as I can, share as much as I can with the world, and want to show as much as possible from the beauty out there.
It’s sometimes frustrating to see how little time or energy I have while I want to write and tell so much. Always thinking about that day I’ll be able to fly part-time, or retire and find the time. Later, later, later I’ll find the time to write. What if that time never comes?
Thinking a bit further about the possibility of a premature end, I realise more and more that I’m one of the few people that can look at one self in the mirror every single morning, without any regret and still stand by all the choices I’ve made, without exception. Having certain strong values and principles, and being consequent in acting on them have made me who I am, where I am and where I’m going.
Choices that have led me into and through this career, that have created chances, that put me in contact with the most fantastic characters and people, that have cut people off, and some choices that every now and then, have saved the day for me and countless others that never knew how close fate had been.
I would make all of them again, without a second thought, for I realise during this night flight over India that the person I am, is the person I have to accept and be. I’m not here to dance to the manipulating tune of others, allow others to dictate how I feel or accept any mistrust.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Where 20-odd years ago the answer would have been ‘a pilot’, the answer now, aged 33, would be ‘Myself’.
What else can one strive to be, but be true to oneself. Not depending on what others want, listening to your own desires and not where social or religious pressure forces one into. It sounds cliché, but I start to realise that this is very fundamental to living and being happy.
What do you want to be when you grow old? A question some of us cannot answer, for they will be taken away way too early.
A look out of my window, onto the billions of people on the ground that are in my view right now, looking up to billions of stars, the infinity of space and its unimaginable distances and size.
It’s all so relative.
Up there, all the mysteries, the questions about the big ‘why’ of life, the ‘why’ of the universe are spread out visually in a billion light sources. Dark matter, quantum mechanics and its influence on how the world works around us. The fundamental but impersonal questions about life and the bigger scheme of things; its all out there for us to wonder about or just simply enjoy by looking at it.
Down here; billions of people that deal with every day problems. Paying the rent, finding food, dealing with crying children. Falling ill and knowing life is about to end for them. The question ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’ is not even a possibility, for daily survival is the only answer millions down there can only think of.
It’s all so relative. No matter how much poverty and suffering goes on down here over the countries I overfly, I cannot even imagine the pain and suffering those three families that are about to lose their father are going through right now, because, in this little time-capsule of mine, it’s suddenly very close and personal. Closer than all the billions of people I pass by on this single night flight.
Godspeed my friends, order a cold one for me when I'm about to cross the line myself and join you up there one day.