When I fly, it is inevitable that I start thinking about the meaning of life. No matter the airline or the destination, no matter the time zone or the country, when I look out an airplane window, my spirit soars with awe and my stomach sinks with terror. Looking down on our planet, I can see small square stamps called fields and narrow long lines called roads. The cars speeding down the highway look like ants slowly trudging across a desert. When I zoom out on the world like that, human civilization doesn’t look all that different from an ant colony or a bee hive or a bacterial growth. It makes me wonder, is there a life form out there that would look at our world and diagnose humanity as an odd and not that fascinating fungus?
Then I think of my cats, because I can always bring the subject back to my cats. Java Bean and Officer Krupke don’t know about the recent economic recession or the effects of global warming or the politics driving the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their brains cannot conceive of these things, nor do I think they’d care if it was all explained to them. Krupke wants a bowl full of food and warm spot on the couch. Java Bean wants to play with the mouse toy and snuggle against my chest. They would rather catch bugs than catch Osama Bin Laden.
When I am zooming around in the atmosphere, it makes me wonder, am I the cat in someone else’s world? The universe is so, amazingly, fantastically, unimaginably big, and time goes on forever and ever or may not even really exist at all. I am never going to understand the universe. Yet I have no doubt that there is stuff going on that is very, very, important, that I will never, ever know about.
Looking down, this planet looks minuscule in comparison to all that exists, yet I can’t help but remember how complicated my little, everyday planet is. There are millions of transactions occurring in the global economy that require computers and instantaneous network connections to track. Creating a diagram of how my friends, family, and acquaintances are interconnected would take a complicated illustration with many circles and lines and dots. You do not even want to see all the digital clutter that is on my computer, expressed in zeros and ones, that would feel like an amputation of my brain if it was lost, yet means less than nothing to the other six billion residents of this planet.
All of those things are so complicated and necessary to make our lives run, but when I’m flying over the planet, they seem as distant and untouchable as the processes that go on in my cells every second to keep me alive. I know about mitochondria and cell division and glycogen, but I don’t understand how everything in my body works together to be this thing that is my body and my consciousness and perhaps my soul. I don’t know what will happen when I die, but I have my hunches. For now, all I know is that I want a refrigerator stocked with food, people to love, and a cozy seat on the airplane, right next to the window.