“Ladies and gentlemen. As you can see the captain has turned on the fasten seatbelt sign indicating that we have begun our initial descent into Honolulu. As the crew moves through the cabin to collect any remaining service items, please return your chairs and tray tables to their full upright and locked position. We will be landing in thirty minutes. Welcome to paradise!”
It is shortly after this announcement when I can feel the airplane tilt slightly forward while slowing its rate of speed. The intricacies of air travel, of forcing a metal cylinder weighing many tons through the skies safely from place to place, remain a mystery to me. This could be because I never actually took physics, but perhaps it is my ignorance of physics that makes so marvelous my experiences of takeoff and landing. The power, the velocity, the elegance of takeoff and landing are beautiful to me—beautiful…and terrifying.
I’m guessing I am not the only person on my flight to understand the word “paradise” in a few different contexts, including a few that make it a bit of a terrifying word to hear as we are hurtling through the sky held aloft by spooky forces of nature. As a religious professional, when I hear the word paradise, it primarily means the afterlife, or where one goes if one was good. Though different kinds of paradises exist across the world’s religions, the primary ticket to entry is ceasing one’s earthly existence. So being welcomed to paradise in the instant before the giant metal cylinder I’m strapped to 39,000 feet in the air tilts its nose toward the ground held some dark amusement for me, like a little secret double entendre only the truly dorky can share.
And when we land safely and I exit the plane to cross the outdoor walkways to baggage claim, it hits me. Lofted gently on the warm breezes is the sweet fragrance of a flower whose name I don’t know yet. A friend greets me with a warm hug and the news of the week I’d missed. The sun tucks behind the horizon to a violet-orange lullaby. And soon the stars shine out against the night. An earthly paradise reveals itself once more. And in a moment, the double entendre melts away into a singular, unified thought: if this is all I ever know of paradise, so be it.
“Friends. As you may have sensed, the Universe has bound us together on this journey toward our shared home. As the spirits of love, friendship, and compassion make their way through our lives, please remember always to return your body, your mind, and your soul to their full, nurtured, and beloved states. For we will all be arriving home in our own time. But for now, welcome to paradise!”
Blessings to you all,