~ Guest Writer, Stephen Bock ~
Living on the Left Coast means that most of my trips begin early in the morning.
That’s when the first flights roar into the skies over a sleepy Santa Monica Bay, climb above the marine layer that covers the Los Angeles basin on so many mornings, and turn 90 degrees to the south to clear the way for the next departure. It’s a breathtaking sight to slice through the thick gray blanket of clouds and see the purple, then red, then orange, then yellow glow of the impending day through the port side windows of your accelerating jet. The darkness of night has past and the new day is dawning – but only you can see all of this magnificence above the fog that can reduce your vision on the ground down to a calculation of feet.
After a few moments to absorb this daily miracle, the plane makes another 90 degree turn to the left, setting an eastward course into the coming day. The blanket of clouds below cover and conceal the country’s second largest city with such skill that any trace of more than twelve million people ceases to exist. Only the tallest peaks of the mountains that define the boundaries of the region appear, like islands that force their way beyond the surface of the ocean in a valiant attempt to reach upward toward the light.
It is now that the task is set before us. We must climb into the future and embrace all that this journey brings. 15,000 feet. 20,000 feet. 30,000 feet. Upward and onward into the rapidly rising sun, into the new day, into the adventure. It is an exhilarating time. The excitement of the unknown drives us onward. Anything can happen.
Who will we meet? What will we do? What will we learn?
Even Mother Nature plays a role in this drama. Living on the Pacific coast you learn that the winds generally blow from the west. For those of us on the jet, that means that we are being pushed to the east. We are being directed by powers greater than our own into the unknown. We are being compelled by unseen forces, faster and faster, into our future.
Of course, the journey can, and probably will, be marked by turbulence. Some you can see coming from hundreds of miles away; some come unannounced and require a quick retreat to the safety of your seat; and others can be so significant as to force a dramatic deviation from the flight plan. But always our plane moves forward, into the future, into the unknown. Eastward Ho!
Los Angeles is a huge city. This is a truth understood by almost every human with a basic understanding of global geography and the smallest number of active brain cells. However, the true scope of this truth is best appreciated from far above the subdivisions, Sigalerts, and smog. Only from altitude can one completely understand just how far and wide this city stretches. This is especially true at night, as the great metropolis seemingly spreads itself beyond the horizon in three directions. Only the black void of the Pacific Ocean to the west can constrain the city’s voracious appetite.
Like any large city, Los Angeles beckons visitors from around the globe.
They come for the sun; they come to see the stars. Some are sent by their jobs; some are pulled by a dream. Whatever of the thousands of different reasons that compel them to come to the City of The Angels, they all share one thing in common: they will all get on a jet – a jet that will take flight over a small part of the Pacific Ocean, a jet that will make two 90 degree turns to the left and head east, a jet that will take them back from where they came. The same jet that takes me into the future takes them into the past. The same jet that pushes me into the unknown pulls them back towards what they know the best. The same jet on which I leave is the same jet that takes them home.
There is a point in each of my travels where the purpose of the trip has been achieved. What was the great unknown just a few hours ago or a couple of days before is now a memory. What was the future is now the past. What was “will be” has become “has been.” The circle completes itself. The same jet that brings visitors to Los Angeles is the same jet that brings Angelenos home, to the left coast. The same jet that is the start of dozens of adventures is the same jet that marks the end to dozens more.
From the comfort of my window seat, I watch us accelerate down the runway. Outside my oval window I can see with my own eyes what a pair of bicycle salesmen in Ohio figured out more than a century ago. Air flowing over the wings lifts this tube of metal in which I have paid handsomely to sit into the air. Gravity has been defied. Physics wins again. The ground falls away, and we climb into the sky.
Flying west is the opposite of flying east. On its face this is obvious. Up is the opposite of down. In is the opposite of out. East is the opposite of west. But there is more nuance to this statement. For me, eastward bound flying marks the first furlong; westward bound flying is the homestretch. Eastward bound flying is full of anticipation, while westward bound flying is mostly a time for reflection. Eastward bound flying is a journey of expectations; westward bound flying is a journey of gratitude.
The beginning of any trip requires, almost by definition, that something will be left behind.
College freshman leave behind their childhood homes and haunts to forge a new life as an emerging adult. Immigrants leave their homeland to find a new life in a new country. But the excitement and exhilaration at the beginning of the journey is not without cost. The piper always requires payment. For me, my travels require leaving behind those that I hold most dear. It’s my loved ones who are hidden beneath the blanket of clouds as I climb into the sky. It’s my loved ones who are behind me as I accelerate into the future. It’s my loved ones who pay the piper.
Just like the beginning of this latest journey, tonight we cut through the clouds shortly after takeoff. Just like the beginning of this journey, we turned to the left. Just like the beginning of this journey, we flew into the sun. But this is not the beginning of my journey; it is the end. Dawn is behind us. Sunset is what sets our course. Yellow turns to orange. Orange turns to red. Red turns to purple. Purple turns to black. I’m going home…
… and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
Stephen Bock has been the President of the Fred Bock Publishing Group for the last twenty years. He has served as President of the Church Music Publishers Association and is currently the Vice Chair of the CMPA Action Fund. Mr. Bock resides in Los Angeles, with his wife Lisa, daughter Kaylee, son Alexander, and two annoying dogs who deserve no other attribution based on their behavior this morning.
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