Image by Mary Carty

I do not know how this happens, but since my very first flight many years ago, I invariably end up sitting on the wing of the plane. It does not matter the size of the craft; my inner homing pigeon sends me to the same spot. I have come to laugh at the coincidence now.

Recently, I was assigned a row right at the back. Vacant spaces allowed passengers to move around. Where did I end up? Seat G row 22. I suppose if you want to feign flight, acquire wings.

On the edge of that same wing, there is something reassuring about the beacon, marking our space in the infinite sky. A heartbeat of life thousands of miles from the surface, from here to there. As my fellow passengers slept around me, I drew a diagonal line from my window to the upturned tip of the wing, closer to the stars than I had been in three years. 

I thought about the adventures that were guided by the same stars, setting out without a seatbelt or safety demonstration on land, sea, and sky. They knew the sun and stars would present the way. The shadows on the trees, the feel of the breeze, the turn of the tide.

Now, I wonder why we argue over constructs that do not serve us. A flat world, the negation of experts, rigour, and research. The refusal of love and care, over profit and consumption, the illusion of connection. The yearning to belong, while cynically labelling those who advocate for a gentler world as weak.

I try not to enter dualistic conversations, no one ever wins and it’s not about winning. It is about understanding. The human mind has a lot to process, even more so the heart, but we give the latter short shrift.

When our capacity to understand is overwhelmed, it is not unknown for us to choose a corner and settle in. Hold on to your defensive spot, so to speak. It takes courage to investigate what is beyond our comprehension, our experience, and our very ability to process.

Watching the night sky through the prism of a tiny window halfway down the right side of an aeroplane mid-flight, left me lost for words. How to articulate the wonder of this experience, no longer guided by stars, but technology. Fed by the experience and imagination of seekers who have gone before. Problem solvers, daredevils and in their own way, magicians. Surely, when first mooted, air flight must have been considered the fanciful engagement of soft-headed dreamers.

As a fellow passenger remarked, flying is now “usual transportation”; the aura has long gone, complete with a class system. Hand over your money to beat the thronging masses. Pay more for a larger seat and better food. Pay more for legroom and table service. And more again to pre-book transportation. When so many people pay for priority, it no longer serves its purpose.

How have we managed to take something so wondrous and turn the experience into discomfort, jealousy, and judgement? I thought about the next strata.


How long before we turn that journey into taking off your shoes, paying more for the “clear” line, emptying your water bottle, and tasting the baby food?

Do we think it will be different this time?

In California last week, I saw a local town celebrating 60 years. From small dairy farms, this part of the California desert has transformed enormously. New inhabitants took to the road and the air, mostly from the East Coast for a better life, free of crime, with fresh air, better schools, and a benevolent climate. Like so many places across the world, the promise of a better life is intoxicating.

As Charles Salt discovered in 19th Century England, a better life is complex. His model town Saltaire failed because surveillance and control did not feel much like freedom, even if working in Salt’s Mills afforded better housing and family life.

Today, workers’ keystrokes are monitored, policies dictate mandatory presence in the office and an always-on culture has replaced Salt’s observation towers. Some things, sadly, remain the same.

As the fasten seatbelt sign appeared on the descent into an early morning Dublin, the connection between stars and sky, wings and dreams, and a better life came together.

To strike out anew takes courage, persistence and planning, a dose of faith and plenty of friends. But to think that this time will be different is not always true when the state of human history points to the opposite.

How do we not arrive back at the same spot, spinning on the same step, wearing different clothes, and using technology to dictate, control and coerce?

Humans have an enormous capacity to break new ground and at the same time, the power to exclude and invalidate. What would our business models look like if we moved toward wholeness, not fragmentation? Maybe it is time to redraw and reconcile the systems that drive separation and division.

If we put humans at the centre of our systems, we consciously ignore all else who share this planet with us. Everything breaks down. It is up to us to choose what values we are guided by. Maybe the answer is to be mindful. Knowing that the head will have its way, leave room for the heart. 

Reading: All About Love: New Visions – Bell Hooks & Saltaire: The Making of a Model Town – Neil Jackson

By Mary Carty