And proclaim that the people shall observe Hajj. They will come
to you walking or riding on various exhausted (means of transportation). They
will come from the farthest locations. (22:27-28)
Johan Berthold Jongkind, "Leaving the Port of Honfleur" (1865)
my very first flight left from a small airport in
when we finally boarded i was excited about flying in a way that i have since more than recovered from. the plane pushed its way up into the gray sky and bounced its way along towards dc. my mother's face was the same color as the sky long before we got there.
by the time we arrived in nyc i decided it was time to dump the crutches. the foot never healed correctly and it still hurts for me to sit cross-legged if my left foot is on the bottom, but even now i dont regret it. i walked on two feet onto what is still the largest plane i have ever been on. the pan am double-decker had sleeping quarters on the upper floor for those who had the money. but the government was only paying for our family to fly third class.
Jean-Léon Gérôme, "Arabs Crossing the Desert" (1870)
it is not only the largest plane i have ever been on, it may well be one of the most crowded flights i have ever been on. i have been on other full flights since, all of which were much less enjoyable, but this flight teemed with life. there was an energy i could not have understood at the time which made the plane seem about to burst. and that energy lasted for almost every minute of the fifteen hour, non-stop flight.
it was almost as if we had booked a flight on a family reunion. people, most of whom had never met before that flight, chatted joyously like old friends, relatives departed and only now reunited. i dont remember when the singing started. somewhere over the atlantic, in a language i could not understand, people, drunk on nothing but happiness, joined together in one voice. in and out of a dramamine induced sleep, stretched across the lap of a total stranger, the festivities went on around me. this was flying, and flying was a party.
we were over land and the party went in an uneven ebb and flow when a transformation began to take place. a slow stream of people male and female began to move to the bathrooms, still three or four hours from our destination. they began to undress themselves of america and become something else. fantastic clothing, a sea of flowing white, but new to me, unseen before and thus fabulous, like butterflies. and as the transformation took hold among the passengers, leaving only us as defective, stunted human beings trapped in our cocoons, the party in the sky reached its climax until someone, in the now-foreign language that was english, announced that we were descending.
Jean-Léon Gérôme, "An Arab Caravan" (c.1870)
it was a descent into light, and overwhelming brightness. as we approached the ground i stared out the window: a small herd of camels trotted underneath us, glancing casually upwards. the plane slammed downward onto the runway, as if we could not land fast enough now. the shutters banged down and everyone let out a collective gasp, and then applause.
the plane parked not far from the terminal and a ramp was brought alongside. and we advanced slowly upon the exit. i was a child of the south, raised on heat and humidity in equal portion with eggs and grits. but when i stepped off that plane, nearly blinded by the purity of the light, i was embraced by the new world, wrapped in warmth and moisture that tangibly took hold of me. and i was in dhahran.