When the weather allows, and the light lasts well into the evening, I can sit in our back garden, glass of wine by my side, book in hand, watching the jets from Heathrow climbing into the sky. There’s one a minute, extraordinary numbers of people pouring into the heavens, en route to who knows where. Sometimes I’ll sit there and wonder about the plane passing by. Where is it going? Who’s on it? Why are they on it? Holiday, business, returning to family, escaping? Each life with its back history, its present concerns, its uncertain future. None of which I will ever know. A whole load of history and future just passing by, high in the sky.
Occasionally a fighter jet will appear, with its fierce emissions condensing in the cold atmosphere, an awesome vapour trail leaving trace of the searing object that was there moments before. There’s one in the photo above. It’s like a shooting star, but inside there’s a man or woman piloting that jet, one or two others aboard, in constant communication with ground control, urgent, concentrated, forever on the edge between progress and disaster. Just people, with all the same hopes and fears, daily concerns, joys, relationships. Up there, in the sky, shooting by at hundreds of miles an hour. Remote, but the same.
I wonder, I wonder.
It’s like when I’m on the tube, every working day. The Piccadilly, the District Line. The crowded carriage. The commuters, the tourists, the businessmen and women from abroad, the students, the school kids. People from so many different backgrounds, cultures, countries, races. Incredible diversity. I look around and wonder. What if I met that person, spoke to them? Would we get on, could we be friends? What might we have in common? What might we disagree about? Who knows? I will never know. Every moment, more people that come into your sphere, and then disappear, never to be seen again. A missed opportunity? A good thing you never knew more? They might have stuck their elbow in your face, their bag may have intruded into your personal space, their beauty or style might have brightened up your journey into work. But you will never know them. You can only speculate.
Unless something happens that brings you together, you will never know what might have been. Each person is as remote as that jet pilot. And just as human. Just as interesting. If you could only know them.
What might have been.
Just something that occurred to me as I read the biography of Charles Dickens by Clare Tomalin, supped on a glass of Chardonnay and stared into the fading West London skies…