At 36k feet, we cruise above the fray of a storm in a night that shines perfectly clear. Stars burn brilliantly bright in part because the clouds below block out earth’s light pollution. The Big Dipper gleams like a familiar jewel against a deep periwinkle sky. It’s nearing midnight and after exchanging short pleasantries, the first officer and I sit waiting for the captain to return from a bathroom break.
My attention is divided between the sea of dark clouds that we skim over, and the hundreds of buttons, switches, and indicator lights in the cockpit that produce a faintly green-yellow glow. It reminds me of being in an X-wing star fighter from Star Wars.
I notice a rumbling light firing off deep within a cluster of clouds far below and to the left. The light transfixes me as it sporadically transforms the inky black masses into pearly golds, creams, and lavenders.
Is that… is that a thunderstorm over there, I ask pointing.
Yep, said the first officer nonchalantly — pilots sometimes become immune to the otherworldly beauty of the skies. First time seeing one, he asked.
First time from up above, I respond — it’s beautiful.
Hold on a sec, he said while leaning over to flip a switch. The indicator lights turn off and the cockpit becomes completely dark while the dramatic skies beneath us erupt in pale hues of golden rose. I catch myself holding my breath, and when I expel, I can’t help but utter a prolonged whoa.
It looks like the cosmos in creation, like the finger of God bringing life into the universe. It is magnificent.
— Laura Rowley