I love to fly. Just spread my wings and soar into the sky. Yeah, I wish. No, I just mean boarding a plane and departing. For somewhere… anywhere. That wild wanderlust has diminished a little as I grow older. Sitting still in a few square feet of space, strapped in, breathing stale air feels less and less comfortable. But boarding that winged tin can still equates with adventure and freedom. My heart opens wide and my mind stands to attention and I am fully alive. Anything is possible. People to meet, new food to try, adventure to experience. I think traveling is actually a superfood, It increases the oxygen in the bloodstream and amps up mindfulness. Now I am paying attention!
I have a prayer practice for take-off and landing. I do. It is not exactly fear that has me praying on every voyage. It is not exactly faith either. Maybe a form of wonder. Somewhere along the way I came to believe that I should help the pilot fly the plane at take-off and landing. After all, why should we take it for granted that this 500 ton tub of metal, upholstery, pretzels and humans should be able to lift into the sky. And then a few hours later we expect it to land its huge ungainly mass smoothly down upon the waiting tarmac. It is a truly awesome event. Maybe even a miracle. We should be surprised and amazed every time it happens. Instead of being shocked the very rare times it does not happen correctly.
That is why many years and dozens of flights ago, I began reciting the Shema at takeoff and landing. It doesn’t take long— just the time from taxing to truly being aloft and leveling off. And it is not intrusive though I do sing it out loud (softly) .
Shema Yisrael or “Hear, [O] Israel”) are the first two words of a section of the Torah, and the prayer that serves as a centerpiece of the morning and evening Jewish prayer services.
The root “sh-m-a” means to hear, to pay attention and to understand and to respond.
Observant Jews consider the Shema to be the most important part of the prayer service in Judaism, and its twice-daily recitation as a mitzvah (religious commandment). It is traditional for Jews to say the Shema as their last words upon dying , and for parents to teach their children to say it before they go to sleep at night.
The first verse is:
Sh’ma Yis’ra’eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad
I can’t read the Hebrew but don’t you like how it looks???
Sometimes I even get to the second verse:
Barukh sheim k’vod malkhuto l’olam va’ed
Blessed be the Name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever.
Ghandi always chanted Shree Ram, translated as “Oh God” as he walked and they were said to be his last words spoken as he was shot.
Those were the only words necessary to take you right to God… as if Ghandi needed any help with that.
In the same way the Shema is supposed to be the words you should recite at death. It is not exactly that I believe I am going to die but the truth is I am a little closer to heaven when I am up there and it never hurts to hedge your bets.
I have never been a very educated or active Jew but I guess I assume that the Shema is there for any of us and I do kind of help myself to it. I do not wish to offend but I figure it is lodged somewhere deep in my bloodstream.
I have had to stop lively conversations with new seat mates and take a singing time out while I help to get this plane aloft. If I turn toward the window and sing softly, the general engine sounds usually provide a fairly efficient cover to my trembling notes.
So if you are sitting next to a somewhat nondescript older woman on your next flight and you hear a little soft tuneful humming at take-off and fragments of words you might not understand float into your awareness…. that is just me.. singing our airplane into the sky.