May 12th, 2003.

Waving at planes.

When I was a kid, I sometimes used to lie on the grass in our back garden looking up at the sky. I'd pick out objects, and find faces in the clouds as they moved in slow motion far above me.

Among the hazy wisps and cotton wool constellations, there were often white lines drawn by distant planes that shimmered in the sun. I'd lie there and watch them as they cut through the clouds, disappearing and reappearing, traveling at speeds that seemed only a little faster than those I could achieve on my bicycle.

As the planes flew into the distance, melting into the summer blue sky, I'd give them a little wave, the kind you might give a child looking back at you from the rear seat of a car as it drives away.

My Dad was often working in the garden, tending his beloved flower beds. From time to time I remember asking him where a passing plane might be going. His answer was always the same and often given without so much as an upward glance. "France," he'd say, and with the kind of trust only children possess I would accept his answer. I'd lie there wondering what it must be like to go to France, or indeed anywhere, in the kind of plane that threads an evaporating trail across the sky.

Of course, they weren't all flying to France. That was simply my Dad's answer to most of our childhood geographical questions. On visits to Southend beach in Essex, he would point at land across the Thames estuary. "Look, you can see France," he'd say as he pointed at Kent. He knew it wasn't France, and in time so would we. But that was back in the days when trips to Danbury Common and Hylands Park seemed like adventures in far-away places. In reality, they were no more than a twenty-minute drive from our home.

Now at thirty-two years old, I might be the only 'grown-up' who still waves at planes. Their distant vapor trails look so peaceful, and still they seem to move slower than anything around me.

I don't know what it is about them that fascinates me so. But even now, all these years later, I still watch them draw a line under the heavens before giving them a little wave to send them on their way, wherever that might be.

I like the fact that a tale is unfolding before my eyes. No matter how routine the journey, there's always the possibility of new experiences and adventures. Perhaps even the kind of events that become sewed into the very fabric of that which makes us the people we are, creating the milestones by which we measure our before and afters.

There are beaches close to where I live. I often go there to watch the setting sun dip into the cold yet somehow inviting sea. No two sunsets are ever the same. The sky fills with saturated shades of reds and oranges fading into deep dark blues.

It's then when the distant planes look their most alluring as they make their way toward the horizon. Beneath them the golden waves of the Irish Sea. Then, after passing over Ireland, just mile upon mile of nothing but the North Atlantic Ocean. To me, this is what hope looks like. A clear sky, an empty ocean, and a plane chasing the sun, leaving only a vapor trail fading in its wake.

I know they can't see me as I wave. They don't need to see.
I'm not waving for them, I'm waving for me.