I take the window seat because I want to look out. It's a habit. I expect to see the terrain of my future unfold beneath me. These days the itch that started the habit rarely gets scratched.
I used to fly towards distant mountains. When I was fortunate I saw the great ranges as I flew toward them. Or flew over others I'd visited before. I loved the perspective, the safe, distant view and my memory picking out the peaks I'd seen in photographs, the ridges and faces, and the immense lines that might be traced upon them.
The mountains have always been my sentinels, watching over me, guarding my ambition, at once welcoming - looking a lot like home - and threatening me with the consequence of any misstep made on the way to what I wanted to achieve.
These days I fly above seas of clouds packed down tightly against pan-flat land. No summits peek through. No relief to offer me the same. One job to the next. Each flight landing at a location where we make the make-believe real. Where each sun rises over a straight, unbroken horizon or maybe lightens the low-hanging gray an f-stop or two. Without contrast. Without variation. A monotonous two-dimensional landscape at every point of the compass.
Sometimes I make quick escape to visit someone I love. Weekends that begin and end before the jetlag can set in. I don't bother to check a bag.
What mountains exist for me in this present are man-made, disappointing but difficult little peaks in the great ranges called Drama or Politics. My partners are attorneys and accountants. They know how to tie knots. They might catch a fall. On good days when I get outside I can pretend though, that the 100-foot hill I run up or ride is higher or longer, that the effort it takes can teach me a lesson beyond how unfit I am, or drag something out of me I didn't already know, or hadn't the will or ability to express. More make-believe.
I can see art and beauty just about anywhere, and it is true that every landscape brightens seen through the eyes of effort. The deepest contrast forms between exhaustion, recovery and the heated need to go again, but here I see a bland grayscale of muted desire and doing, of having done, and just enough satisfaction to repeat it with enough variation to call such routine progress. I find myself asking over and over - too much these days - if the effort is worth it in these circumstances. I see why people start to coast. And how inertia becomes king. How they plug away until one day they just plug a hole in the ground with what remains of what they let themselves become.
I knew more and wanted it. I worked hard enough to experience and achieve, toiled until the boy who could only imagine became the man who could do. And then did. When the natural arc returned me to the valley I re-imagined and reinvented. And did it all again, in different places, differently. But just as each summit climbed or each goal accomplished became a dream destroyed, those experiences left a void. What now? And when?
How hard should I push? What against?
Sometimes it is best to sit still. To observe. To rewire shorted circuits that drained the battery. To cut the knot instead of untying it, to give the rope a new end. And to let thirst build. To wait patiently until hunger becomes a scream. Until anger makes a fist, or joy does the same.
Because if I'm calm, and right in my head, if ego is collared, if I am patient, attentive, open and creative and I stand on the balls of my feet, prepared, then, "What now?" is an opportunity instead of a lament. Around the corner or over the rise I might find a mountain looking for me just as I seek it. Perhaps it is there, hidden under a layer of higher forming clouds. That's the thing about opportunity: you can train for it your whole life, diligently, persistently, and miss it in the blink of an eye, or the blindness that comes when you mistake the training for goal.