Sometimes it’s good to feel insignificant.
Not all of the time, of course. But every now and then, it’s a healthy thing for us to be put in our place.
Most of the time, we tend to feel fairly big and awfully important. Like our own life takes up more space in the universe than it actually does.
But then there are those moments, those tiny epiphanies that descend from nowhere to remind us we are merely pieces of a puzzle far greater than ourselves.
I just experienced a moment like that this morning. I am sitting on a plane for a 26-minute flight from a fairly obscure Midwestern cornfield toward the famous skyline of Chicago. It’s early, and the sky is still striped with pink like a scene out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I half expect an oompa-loompa to skip down the aisle and offer me a lollipop.
(Instead, the toddler in front of me just spilled an entire bag of goldfish crackers all over her lap, the floor, and my bags that are stowed neatly under her seat.)
But that sky.
It’s so brilliant.
And all the miniature houses and tiny ribbons of highways stretched so far below the pink streaks and fluffy clouds I am flying through look just like the town in my sons’ old train set. The entire Illinois half of the Quad Cities is displayed down there, still sleepy in the early-morning dusk, and yet it looks like nothing more than a child’s playset. A lifelike model of an honest-to-goodness town.
But there is a family filling up the beds in each of those tiny houses, and an individual sitting behind the wheel of each of those tiny cars driving down those tiny, winding roads.
I can’t look away, and I’m suddenly struck by the thought that all those tiny people down there are about to be consumed by whatever this new day has in store for them. I find myself wondering what each family will be facing.
Maybe that family in that house right down there is preparing to head to the hospital to have their first baby and be initiated into the life-altering experience called parenting.
Maybe the family next door will soon be waking up to catch a plane themselves, heading off to a vacation they’ve been planning for months.
Maybe the family in the house across the street will wake up to realize their son or daughter didn’t come home last night, and the beauty of their pink-tinged morning will be overshadowed by dark clouds of worry.
Or maybe today is the day that family in the house with the pool will get dreaded test results, or a notice of a reduction-in-force, or a letter from an attorney specializing in family law.
I hope not.
I hope they all wake up to whatever news they’ve been hoping for; but the thing is, none of us really ever knows, do we?
But one thing is clear. From up here, none of that matters as much as it does down there. From up here, every single person is just another tiny little person on an earth full of tiny little people, and the grand sum of all their hopes and dreams and fears are really just like everyone else’s.
And nothing down there – good or bad – can even compare to the splendor that is going on up here.
I want to hang onto that.
When I land in Chicago later today, and in Los Angeles after that, when I’m standing in line for my rental car and then checking into my hotel and later registering for my conference, I don’t want to lose sight of the view I had this morning. I want to remember the pink clouds and the tiny houses and the narrow ribbons of highways.
Because the view from up here changes everything.