Waiting at LAX Japan Airlines gate for our plane to arrive. Nat, Chase and I flew from Atlanta this morning on the same plane; Jerry and Jim arrived separately and met with us here. Stewart will meet us in Osaka at the airport, we think; and Peter will arrive in Osaka later “tonight” (whatever that means - time zone disorientation is setting in).
I am watching over ten bags or so, while the others wander the concourse looking for lunch and a bit of exercise before going aboard for a long flight.
Traveling abroad offers a wonderful opportunity to suspend our usual grasp on time, as something to which we are accustomed, and take for granted. That is, measured time. When what time it is depends upon where we are, Einstein’s famous conflation of space-time gets personal. If we stay in one place it seems that time is dependable. If we do not, but instead move great spaces in a relatively brief time, time becomes fluid, conditional upon where we happen to be at the moment. In other words, our concept of time is not connected to the space we occupy in any dependent sense. Its arbitrary nature becomes clear when we shift through time zones. It becomes clear that there is only one time. only one space. And, of course, mine is different from yours.
On the leg from Atlanta to LA, the window shades were pulled shut, which made sense because we departed in the predawn darkness. but I noticed that very few of the passengers with window seats raised the shades for the whole flight, instead focusing on their various electronic devices, or the video monitor built into the back of every seat. When coming into LA, I switched mine to the “pilot’s view” and had the absurd experience of watching a digitized image of our approach, a pale miniature of what was happening in reality outside the windows. I had the distinct impression that this replication is more desirable to witness than the real thing outside the windows, perhaps because it seems to be under our control.
I read a discussion of the Big Bang in a recently published dialog between a scientist who became a Buddhist monk, and a man who grew up in a Buddhist country and became an astrophysicist. The discussion centered around what occurred before the Big Bang, and the fact that we cannot know, scientifically. But the speculation is that there “was” no time before the event, and in fact the physics that determine our reality set in place a micro-moment after the initial expansion itself, and before the expansion into space as we know it. Words fail, but it seems that the focus on the relativity of these ideas holds for science as well as for Zen.
The sheer number and diversity of people traveling is even more overwhelming than I remember from the last time I traveled internationally. But when you make eye contact, there is a kind of recognition that occurs, an instant familiarity in the face and eyes of every stranger. This is buddha meeting buddha, all unawares. That which recognizes it is like a reflection in the mirror.
We board the Boeing 787 Dreamliner for Osaka, having changed our seat selection from middle rows to aisles and windows at the gate. The airplane is state of the art, with a wingspan that is wider than the body is long. My aisle seat is at the bulkhead where I have a view into the First Class cabin, like the beggars in a Dickens story, looking longingly through the window at the swells dining in a restaurant.
The meal was first-class, though, served in beautiful little hi-density plastic boxes, transparent rose with a white liner. I hope that they do not trash these lovely things after one use; it would be a real shame even to recycle them. Knowing the efficiency of the Japanese, they have probably figured out a cost-effective way to reuse them. The food itself was restaurant-quality, a special seafood meal that my travel agent (okusan) ordered in advance. Along with a nice piece of hot whitefish and vegetables, including western-style potatoes, there were four smaller boxes, consisting of cold noodles with garnish, sushi over potato salad (!), lettuce-tomato-cucumber salad (no dressing, but a lemon-slice), and a fruit cup. Way too much to eat, but I managed.
The windows feature a large button divided into light on top, dark on the bottom, which either darken or lighten the lens by some voodoo magic, obsoleting the quaint shades of the domestic flight to LA. The time distortion gets weirder as we realize we are tracking the sun against the rotation of the earth, so that the tinting of the windows creates a faux impression of dusk and nighttime, when in fact it is still daylight outside. We will arrive in Osaka about 6:30 am, never having experienced the dark.
I had the temerity to lighten the pane next to the bulkhead in order to check the real world, assuming the light would not be sufficient to bother anyone, but was asked by a flight attendant, in impeccable Japanese politeness, to please darken it again, arigato ozaimasu, as everyone else was trying to catch some sleep. I hope his did not come off as insensitive; I was just fascinated by the anomaly of the inside and outside worlds.