Image by Chase Jensen

I sit across the aisle from another writer on my 747 flight, an older woman writing in large letters. Her scrawl resembles my grandmother’s: messy but elegant, beginning large and then fading into smaller letters. She holds pages and pages of lined paper, off-white and yellow. I am fascinated by her style. I haven’t the slightest idea what she is recording, but the rough elegance of her writing is magnificent—so different from my own.

I want to speak with everyone around me. We are seated in a long line of short rows—A B C D E—and identified by the flight attendant according to what beverage we ordered: 17A has the orange juice, 17B has the Diet Coke with a cup of ice, 17C has the cranberry juice. I want to speak with all these people I see.

Who is the makeup-less girl in seat D with the lavender bandanna, rugged Keens, and a packed Dakine? What is the story of the woman with the short bob and the lime-green purse? Where are their final destinations? Have they been there before? Are they nervous to take off, nervous to land, nervous to see who will meet them when they get off the plane?  

I am intrigued by the woman who is writing. The pilot has announced the descent, and we have both continued writing with our laps as tabletops. I use my peripheral vision to watch the woman gather her things.

Her bag is large and rectangular with two thin, maroon handles. The bag is olive green and worn from much use. It is filled with torn, school-ruled pages; notebooks with pens in the spiral; and bright yellow and orange folders. She is scribbling like I am. I feel connected to her from across the aisle. We have something in common, she and I.

We are all travelers—everyone we pass in the grocery store, everyone we pull up next to at a stoplight, everyone we sit near on a plane. We all have our dream destinations, the places we fantasize about visiting someday. But what most of us don’t realize is that beauty, knowledge, and adventure can be found in our everyday travels, as we observe the texture of our seat or the splashes of rain against the car window. Because when we finally reach the Louvre or Stonehenge or the Empire State Building, they’ll just be landmarks, photo-ops, and places to visit just to say we’ve seen them, even if we haven’t enjoyed the journey that brought us to them.

From my seat on this airplane, I realize that the best inspiration comes to me not when I’m seated in an opera house or when I’m staring at the original Mona Lisa. It comes when I notice the small, ordinary things around me—the smell of Viennese air in the morning, the stillness of an Alpine pond, the surge of pride when in my broken German I successfully order a sandwich without mustard. Or when I watch the woman across the aisle scribble as frantically as I do on a two-hour plane ride.

Wherever we are going, wherever we’ve been, we are present right now in our travel through life. What can you discover from where you sit?

—Claire Ford