Francis Notebook

By Francis Plaza

Musings from above the clouds



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Francis Plaza
Francis Plaza
For the last eight minutes, my eyes have been scanning the ground and gazing through something unrecognisable. The surroundings of an airport have all become too familiar—terminals, jetways, taxiways and runways. As I looked through the vast and magnificent Doha airport, my mind wandered with amazement. The jet taxied silently, turn by turn, towards the long runway. The pilot spoke into the microphone at the cockpit, “Quebec Romeo One Four Five, ready for takeoff.” As we gained enough airspeed, the big Boeing 787 Dreamliner jet lifted off in those few seconds that followed. The wide-body jet felt weightless as it flew into the sky.
As adults, we often forget the marvels of flying—our perspectives and outlooks in life change as we age. We grow up; we no longer want a window seat. We stop seeing flight as a miracle but simply as physics following the Bernoulli principle. And the same thing goes with life. Too often, we’ve become so occupied with the day-to-day that we no longer see the stuff of dreams in our lives.
Francis Plaza
You know you’ve grown up when you no longer want a window seat
We forget. I, too, often forget.
Moments after we took off from Doha, I dove into writing this piece. With the blessing of having no WiFi onboard, I started thinking about all that I learned from looking at the clouds—in life, love and work. While flying certainly isn’t magic, there’s something magical that it teaches us.
There is always that moment of discovery that unfolds as you fly. It may be the view of beautiful mountains in a lovely, clear sky. Or the patterns and colours of the sunset and sunrise. Or how the Pasig River crosses beautifully across the metro. But only a handful, I venture, would stop to even think about it.
I recall going into what was supposed to be a weekend getaway with some friends. My mind was both in the office and the personal problems I was going through. We all went out to the cliff to watch the sunset that afternoon. My friend wouldn’t stop talking about how the beautiful sunset provided a palette to the gorgeous coastline.
The sunset! The coastline!
She was right. At that moment, we were looking at a canvas of a magnificent coastline; all set off against a magical afternoon sun. My mind went to the present, as I appreciated the beauty of what seemingly was very close enough to touch. Sometimes all you need is to look outside the window.
There is wisdom that if we’re too focused on the trees, we will miss seeing the forest. Whether at work or home, the daily demands in our lives force us to zone in. We often forget the big picture, our goals and our purpose.
Seeing the world from above is a humbling experience. I take solace in the fact that whatever keeps us busy or worried will just be a speck in the grander scheme of things. We must always see things from a much larger perspective. I marvel at the great expanse of the Earth. The world makes more sense from up high. You see landscape, colours and patterns—somehow adding symmetry to the messiness of life.
Too often in recent years, I’ve found myself asking flight crews how long flights would take. I usually plan around when to sleep, eat or do whatever to pass the time. I realised that I overlooked the joys of simply being in the present. Among my little pleasures when travelling are the long walks. There is some joy in getting lost and discovering the little things along the way.
Put down your phone. Read a book. Or better yet, travel with the person you care about most and have some light conversation with them. Get a good laugh. Never let the fleeting moments pass. Once the plane touches down, you’ll realise the past few hours were among the best of your life.
Earlier as our plane started its descent towards Doha, the head cabin crew asked if I got some good rest throughout the long red-eye flight from Manila. I smiled. “Almost the entire flight was turbulent. I couldn’t sleep,” I quipped. She replied with some reassurances, “It happens all the time, flying from the Far East. But once we land, it’ll all be worth it.”
How many thousands of hours had she flown? I didn’t ask. She could probably talk about every little detail of this route from the back of her head. But the look on her face was gleaming with optimism that it gave me something to look forward to when we landed.
We are often met with many challenges, heartbreaks and disappointments. We may be dealing with a demanding boss at work. Our plans may not be unfolding as we intended them to be. Perhaps we are dealing with rejection. Or that boy or girl may no longer be the right person for us. Whatever the hardships may be, turbulent weather is a fact of life. But they too shall pass. Just like the jet, we must continue coursing through life at the near speed of sound. The weather may shake us, but we shouldn’t allow it to stop us.
I learned from playing too many flight simulators that you need to put the thrust in maximum power for takeoff no matter which type of plane you fly. Conversely, if you put the power too low, you either won’t gain enough speed or run out of runway before gaining so.
You can’t go up in life without full throttle. It takes a lot of courage and determination to pursue what we genuinely care about. Pursue that passion you’ve always wanted to try. Start painting. Write. Build a business. Then do whatever it takes to get there.
But whatever that passion may be, more than making any commitment, I’ve learned that it is essential for us to stay true to ourselves and others. Once we figure out our virtues, we’ll have enough fuel to go full speed to give everything towards what we value the most.
By the time I have completed this write-up, my flight has already landed at Barcelona airport. I didn’t even realise we were already about to touchdown until after the flight crew advised. So the seven-hour trip may have already ended, but my journey is certainly just getting started.
Thanks to Josh Lee, Redd Claudio, Ysa Chua, Ryan Reb, Luis Sia, CB Ablan, Lexi Gomez and Poch Espina for reading drafts of this.
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Francis Plaza
Francis Plaza @fplaza

I live in Manila. I grew up in a humble town in Southern Leyte. I studied computer science at MIT and fell in love with technology since then. I write about whatever ponderings that come to mind.

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