When a plane flew overhead, it marked our day. My brothers and I lived, after all, in the mountains, a hundred miles from the nearest airport, and in a time when many still traveled by rail. So when we spotted a plane, we’d stop naming the clouds, no longer caring one was a ship sailing across the sky and another a face staring down at us—three kids in our yard. We’d watch the plane’s tracks fade into blue and wonder how someone could get lucky enough to fly.
Until I was forty-years old I didn’t. My first flight at the roundtrip cost of $38, was one hour long—from Columbus, Ohio, to Chicago, Illinois. But in that hour, I knew I had been right as a kid. To fly is to be fortunate.
And I haven’t lost the marvel. In the many times I’ve flown since, I want to elbow the people around me—the ones who close their eyes and plug their ears and pull down the shades.
“Look down,” I want to say. “And you’ll see how the world fits together—the checkerboard fields and rivers running down mountains and across the land and into the ocean. From up here, you can look down on clouds.”
I sometimes wonder if there are still wide-eyed kids down there staring up from their yards, hoping a plane will streak across the sky.
In a few minutes, I’ll board a plane. We’re meeting our son and his family in Rome and traveling with them through Switzerland and Germany and the Netherlands. We’re going to see the sights—ride the Glacier Express through the alps, boat through canals, visit art museums, and hike in the Black Forest. We’re also going to trace church history—explore how the reformers broke from the Catholics and how the Anabaptists (including our forebears) broke from the reformers.
We’ll walk through the villages and farms where our long-ago family lived and visit places they hid before they fled from persecution, first in Switzerland and then in Germany. Finally, we’ll tour Rotterdam, the port city in the Netherlands, where they boarded ships to journey to America.
For months we’ve been planning this Rome to Rotterdam trip.
But right now, I’m going to board a plane and be amazed. A 400-hundred-ton metal cylinder, carrying a cabin-load of passengers and all their stuff, will lift off from the ground and soar across the sky.