I was on a plane to China and my head dipped and rose to the promise of sleep. I had the best seats in the plane for that, as I’d booked a spot in the Quiet Zone to alleviate the fatigue of an overnight flight.
I tottered the brinks of slumber before laughs screeched in the cabin. Apparently, two guys seated a couple of rows behind me found it appropriate to indulge in banter at two o’clock in the morning—in the freaking Quiet Zone. Another flyer was playing Clash of Clans with the volume turned to full.
I sighed and stood up. I turned to the noisy duo, walked towards them, and headed on to the lavatory to wash my face. Yeah, I’m terrible with confrontations, and it was going to be a long night.
I was on another assignment for work, and being on a reasonable number of flights has led me to expect a certain behaviour pattern. There’s always a lively vibe right after boarding, followed by the silence of take off. This is usually followed by the post-seatbelt-sign shenanigans, the cruising-altitude lull, post-meal excitement, and the pre-landing silence.
It’s not that different from the journey of life, where study comes before work, with years of slavery not far behind that, followed by a mid-life crisis, and your untimely death (based on totally non-empirical evidence).
But there are times when people don’t adhere to this flow. They’re the ones that insist on using the bathroom when the seatbelt signs are on, the ones who never want to put their carry-ons in the overhead compartment, the ones who always snap aeroplane wing photos during take off, you get the drift.
They’re much like the guys who choose to live in vans just to pursue their desire to travel, the people who refuse to take part in the rat race, and the couples who shun the sanctity of matrimony.
And like life, there will be the usual peaks and troughs, sometimes punctuated by the odd obstacle or two. It’s like finally learning to like your career, only to find out that your company is laying off 10,000 people the next month. It’s like getting over your biggest debts only to meet an accident. It’s that time you find out about a cheating partner after buying the wedding ring.
My personal life snags are when work gets in the way of my personal writing (I haven’t blogged for months), or when I have to pass up on rare events because of my travel assignments.
But these hurdles do get me thinking about things. They make me take stock of life, and force me to ask myself if I’m headed in the right direction. All those years lost trying to earn a living. All the things I’ll never be able to do because ‘I’ve passed that age’. All the time wondering if I’m making the best out of my thirties.
Sometimes I really wish I had pursued other things instead of slaving away at my 60-hour work week during my twenties. I’ve brought this up with friends, but have never been able to skew the topic past the Asian way of living.
“How are you going to get married? You can’t even afford the ring!”
“You gotta think about building a life and a family, man. Get a job, a car, a house, a family. That’s the way it is.”
“That’s how it is bro. Work hard when you’re young. Enjoy when you’re older.”
In the end, the discussions always end up in a verbal Mexican stand-off of sorts. “Don’t you want to test the limits of your body while you’re still young?” I’d ask. “What would you do when you’re a proud parent of two, but will never be able to explore Annapurna because you’re approaching seventy?”
I’d spout all this behind my veil of envy though. I’d never be able to raise a kid, I’d tell myself. I’ll never even be able to afford a house of my own. And I’d be right. I could seek all the adventure in the world, but I’ll never grow to become a proper adult, someone who has his shit together. Someone who always knows what to do.
One night, I was entertaining the beginnings of a similar discussion with a friend when he suddenly confided in me: “I wish I had what you have.”
There he was, a father of three beautiful children, a house of his own, creature comforts that he could actually afford, and he wanted what I had… which was practically nothing.
“I wish I didn’t have all this responsibility,” he said. “Sometimes, I just wanna leave, you know? Not leave my family, but just, sign up for a spontaneous adventure. I can’t do that now—at least not without months of planning. But you still can. You have a wealth that none of us parents can ever get again.”
I had no idea what to say. “Uh, yeah. I guess I am pretty wealthy?”
“You are,” he said. He took a drag out of a cigarette, flicked his ashes in his beer bottle, and said with smoke in his breath: “Go seek more adventure for me.”
“I’ll… I’ll try.”
“But,” I said, “you have your family to look forward to, right?”
He snorted. “Yeah. Maybe when my kids graduate from college, and all you have is a single bed, I’ll be the one laughing.”
“Perhaps,” I said.
And then I thought, that maybe—no matter how put together they may seem—people just never figure life out. Maybe we’re meant to navigate this mess of events from birth to death, and pray that we don’t get caught under too many shit storms.
Or maybe, these obstacles end up showing us the way, guiding us away from the comfort zones of life.
And that night on the plane, with beads of water still trickling down my face, was when I broke my two-month-old writer’s block. This story was conceived in a noisy ‘quiet’ cabin, just because things weren’t going exactly to plan.