Storytelling is hard because it requires observation time. Most people are in such a rush, running from appointment to appointment, that they have little opportunity to develop their craft as storytellers.
Recently, I’ve been flying on Southwest Airlines—you know, the airline without assigned seating. I like to watch the road warriors in their single-minded quests to secure forward-cabin aisle seats for the sole purpose of deplaning quickly. Road warriors are story-handicapped because they’re always planning their next move and thus can never live in the moment.
I prefer the window seat, where I press my nose against the glass and watch everything–the flaps extending, the taxiing, and counting the number of planes ahead of us for takeoff. My favorite part of the flight is when the pilot throttles up the engines while standing on the brakes. The moment is one of anticipation, a prelude to a battle between human power and nature’s power. The plane then lurches forward, pressing its passengers into their seats as thrust and lift conspire to defy gravity and carry them to the clouds.
I’ve seen the most beautiful sunsets through airplane windows. My favorite occurred once as the sun cast burnt-orange rays upon the clouds below us. I hoped in vain to stop time, realizing that the gorgeous view would end as soon as we broke through the puffy carpet of orange and purple. But that’s when something unexpected happened. As we broke through the first carpet, we found a second one below. The sun’s rays, now channeled between two cloud layers, reflected their orange and purple hues both above and below us. A few of my fellow window-dwellers gasped at the site. Most of the road warriors toiled in oblivion.
I love final descents because that’s when I get to observe the world at three different scales. The macro level reveals the topography, where hills become valleys that create rivers that fill lakes. The middle level shows civilization, where human-made structures like roads, buildings, power lines, and sports fields emerge from the topography. And finally, if I’m lucky enough, I’ll catch a glimpse of the micro level to see the people who live in those houses, work in those buildings, or play in those fields.
Storytellers live in the moment. They observe life and reflect upon what they experience. And they do so by sitting in the window seat.
Photo Credit: Palmer, Alfred T, photographer. California Long Beach, 1942. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/fsa1992001582/PP/.