Many years ago I was sitting on a flight to LA.
I got the flight a day early because I had a meeting that I really didn’t want to miss.
We were roughly in the middle of the Atlantic, we’d been flying for about 4 hours.
Suddenly there was loud bang followed by a whisp of smoke.
It seemed to be coming from the kitchen, so I guessed one of the microwaves must have broken.
The flight carried on as before.
Except, after about half hour I noticed something strange.
The sunlight that had been streaming in through the left hand windows was now streaming in through the right hand windows.
I thought, that’s odd.
If we’re flying east to west in the northern hemisphere, the sun should be on our left.
If the sun’s on our right, we must be flying west to east, that can’t be right.
Just then a voice came on the loudspeaker.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, one of our engines has malfunctioned. This means we have to turn back to Heathrow. We’ll be flying slower with only three engines, so we expect to land in about five hours.”
I’m thinking “Five hours? Plus the four hours we’ve already flown that’s nine hours, and I’ll still only be at Heathrow.”
But when we landed it got worse.
They couldn’t fix our plane, so they asked us to wait while they found another one.
By now I’m starting to get wound up, thinking “I arranged to get into LA a day early. Now half a day’s gone and I haven’t even left.”
I start pacing around, getting tenser and tenser.
After another four hours they tell us they can’t find a replacement plane.
They say they’ll put us up in a hotel and try again tomorrow.
Now I’m really wound up.
“Try again tomorrow? I left a day early for this meeting and because they screwed up I might not get there on time.”
Next morning I’m washed, scrubbed, suitcase packed, first in line to find out what’s happening.
They say they now have a plane for us and a bus will take us to it.
I’m really wired now, I don’t trust what they say.
I’m sitting on the bus thinking “I bet it’s another excuse. I bet we sit around for hours and don’t get on a plane. I bet I miss my meeting. I’m never using this sodding airline again.”
And I’m thinking this while I’m looking out the window of the bus.
And I realise my life has come down to one thing.
Getting on that plane and getting to that meeting.
Nothing else on the planet matters.
The most amazing event, ever, could happen right in front of my eyes and I wouldn’t care.
A flying saucer could land next to the bus.
Beings from another planet could get out.
For the first time in the history of humankind we could encounter an alien race.
And I’d be screaming at the driver “Don’t stop for that crap, get this bus to the fucking plane.”
And something in head goes ‘ping’.
And I think how nuts is this?
Getting a plane to get to a meeting has taken over from everything else in my universe.
That must be close to madness.
Getting to that meeting had taken over from being alive.
And there was a release of pressure in my head, like letting the air out of a balloon.
I realised I’d lost my sense of perspective.
I sometimes think of that on the tube in the morning.
About once a week a voice comes over the loudspeaker.
“Ladies and Gentlemen. There are likely to be severe delays because of a passenger under a train at Kings Cross.”
And everyone groans.
And everyone’s thinking “Selfish bastard. If they want to kill themselves why couldn’t they wait until after the rush hour? Don’t they know we’ve got to get to work?”
Of course no one says that out loud.
But everyone I’ve spoken to says that thought flashes through their head.
Followed by “What do I do now? I won’t be able to get a taxi because everyone will be trying to get one. I suppose I could get a bus but they’ll be more crowded than ever. Maybe I could walk. No it’s much too far. I’m going to be late.”
Followed again by a massive sense of irritation.
What no one thinks of is the tragedy that made someone want to end their life that way.
How bad does your life have to be to make sitting in front of a tube train preferable to carrying on?
For most of us it’s inconceivable.
But we don’t stop to feel grateful that our life is so good we don’t want to leave it.
No one registers that.
We get on with our lives, on autopilot.
We’re so busy living we forget to be alive