A life lesson from 30,000 feet

The final announcement came over the intercom:

“As always, we thank you for flying Southwest.”

As we taxied across the runway, a wide, solid strip of land that undoubtedly used to be a cow pasture, passengers began to fall asleep. The early morning flight was a mistake because the world is quiet and black and I have too many chances to ask myself why.

Why am I following orders to fly out West? Why am I going to a conference for an industry I do not desire to stay in? Why do I take meeting after meeting?

Why am I addicted to “yes, I will?”

I am crammed up against the 16-inch window of our steel cage which, in only a few moments, will magically escort us 1,789 miles from Nashville to Las Vegas.

Although it has not rained since yesterday afternoon, dew from the morning swims down the top of the plane and across my window. First moving slowly, the drops collect until finally giving in to gravity. After a while, the 737 picks up speed and individual drops turn to streams. They remind me of the game I used to play on my computer — Snake.

Snake is a game where you use 4 arrow keys to direct a collection of pixels which is supposed to be a snake toward a different colored collection of pixels which is supposed to be snake food. I remember them being apples, but I don’t think snakes eat apples. Maybe they were bloody rats.

The game starts simply enough because your snake is small. You don’t have much to manage: guide your monster toward the food. Don’t hit walls and don’t trip over yourself. Here’s where the game gets hard — the more valuable trinkets you collect, the longer your snake gets. In this magical world, eating more food instantly changes your body composition. There is no narrative to this adventure except to accumulate goodies and get bigger. In a matter of seconds, you go from maneuvering your tiny snake in a world of infinite possibility to frantically jerking your controls back and forth in a panic, trying not to crash into a wall or trip over yourself.

You wonder why you had to pick up all those trophies in the first place.

We are now above the clouds and I see more snakes — snakes of houses leading to the fat belly of a city. Snakes of roads we couldn’t help but build. Snakes of highways marking the path where white people plowed over red people because we could and, apparently, we had to. Manifest Destiny and all that. Achieve the goal at any cost regardless of how big your snake gets or how difficult it becomes to maintain.

You go to school to get a degree. You get a degree to get a job. You get a job to earn money. Your money helps make you more attractive to a partner. With this partner, you raise children and teach them the value of being smart and having money and growing up and wanting more. And as your snake gets longer you wonder what the point of it all is, really, and if you wouldn’t be better of closing the game to write your novel or take those photographs or make that movie.

Nobody wins at Snake.

You go in circles within walls and then you die. Some people die with a very long snake. Some wipe out immediately, unable to master the controls. We feel pity for these people because they are bad at the game, but then they get up and leave the rat race to do something more fulfilling.

Maybe they are the smart ones.

Much love as always ❤️

— Todd B

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This article first appeared on Medium.