Goodbye, bye-bye, goodbye, bye-bye…keep smiling…repeat 300 times. It usually takes ten minutes for everyone to disembark a jumbo jet.
I’ve been doing this long haul flying job for twenty-four years and i sometimes wonder how many people i’ve said goodbye to. I must have said goodbye to tens of thousands of people from all over the planet. Some of them couldn’t speak English. Most of them smile and nod in response. Many of them say goodbye to me. Occasionally i get a high five or a handshake. A few frazzled souls look straight through me but who can blame them.
No matter what the adverts promise, it’s not a joyful experience jetting long haul, especially in economy. The noise, the cramped conditions, the lack of control. At best it’s bewildering and disorientating. A man who’d been staring out the window for hours once asked me, “What’s that grey area we’re flying over?” It was the wing. Despite the conditions, I’ve only ever witnessed one incident of air rage. Because complete strangers can be packed like hotdogs into a tin can and remain polite for fourteen hours i have hope.
A couple of weeks ago, after all the goodbyes, i found myself in New York City on a twenty-four hour layover. Perfect timing because my good friend Paul was attending his United States citizenship ceremony and i’d been invited. I met Paul, his wife Miriam and her parents on a windy street in Manhattan at seven thirty the following morning and queued politely with countless others. Crotchety security personnel, X-ray machines and body scanners temporarily transported me back to work, but once inside i was relieved when a happy official handed me my own USA flag. I wondered if attendees at a United Kingdom citizenship ceremony would be handed a Union flag and decided they probably wouldn’t. In the UK Scotland is planning a vote on independence and we could end up going our separate ways.
It took a while to get started because of paperwork and formalities. Friends and family sat behind the two-hundred-or-so citizens-to-be and conversed in whispers, a bit like a theatre audience waiting for the lights to go down. It fascinated me that those about to take the pledge of allegiance came from fifty different countries: Bali, New Zealand, Ireland and Iran to name a few. It would be trite to mock the God Bless America sing-along part of the ceremony, so i won’t, but i will admit to finding it schmaltzy.
Other moments were surprisingly moving. The bits that moved me weren’t obvious. They were unofficial. They were the smiles passed between family members and loved ones. The hugs, kisses and cheers that signified the end of a long road. A road which could have resulted in separation. I even spied a gay couple, loved-up and radiant with relief, who could now look forward to the rest of their lives together. According to Miriam and Paul the road to a USA passport is strewn with doubts, worry, exams and paperwork.
I left the government building thinking about those who are separated by more than geographical borders. Religion, war, hatred, bigotry and daft bureaucracy to name a few. I read recently that it will take an alien invasion for the people of Planet Earth to unite, but i’m wondering if we can wait that long. Why don’t our world leaders get together and arrange Planet Earth Citizenship? In the name of love I think it’s what we need. If those in power can’t organise world peace then i’ll have to cross my fingers for a magical intervention. I’m imagining a Purple storm that circles the planet in minutes and steals everyone aged eighteen to sixty-five.
Wanna sign up for Planet Earth Citizenship? The only requirements are love and an email address! See the box top left 🙂