The roar builds. In a moment, we will begin to inch forward, accelerating quickly toward speed, toward hurtling down the runway.

Every seat is filled. I am by the window. The young woman next to me might be a student; next to her is the affable, middle-aged man who helped me with my carry-on. There is a family with small children, an older couple in wheelchairs, some teenagers and many who are traveling alone, all with their own purposes. We are strangers sharing our immediate location and our immediate destination. That seems to be all we share, but of course, that is only what we know; our many other commonalities are not likely to surface during this one-hour flight. We have our private stories and, for the most part, we tend to keep them to ourselves.


The roar intensifies, and somewhat routinely I entreat the compassionate spirits of the universe to be with the pilot, the crew, these passengers, the maintenance engineers, the designers and builders of this jet plane (as if past were present, for it must be so among spirits); and I entreat those spirits to be with the inspectors and regulators overseeing the work of preparing this airplane for flight.

I bargain with my gratitude: Thanks for the core of integrity that holds people to the pride of their standards. Thanks for the standards. Thanks for the trust among people and their professions. Thanks for the silent assurance we passengers silently acknowledge as we hear that roar.

We are poised on a T.F. Green Airport tarmac in Providence. The flight will take me home to Baltimore. Yesterday I toured the old Slater Mill in Pawtucket, R.I., where the Industrial Revolution began, where children age 6 to 14 worked a 12-hour day on the cotton spinners and spooling machines. Because their hands were tiny, they could reach in between gyrating, unforgiving metal spokes. Because they were small enough to fit under massive, moving machine parts, they were used to retrieve the filled spools and set up the empty ones. Children were maimed; fingers were lost; hearing and sight were damaged before puberty; lungs were poisoned. Hurt children were sent home in disgrace, replaced by other children.

Thanks for safety today. Thanks forOSHA.

And last year I was a tourist for two weeks in Vietnam. Do not drink the water in Vietnam, unless it is bottled elsewhere. Do not expect sanitary conditions at markets, restaurants or public rest areas in most Asian countries.

Thanks, America, for fresh water at the tap, for waste purification systems. Thanks for safe toys, dependable bridges, clean emissions standards, runoff control in watersheds. Thanks for American values of care and compassion, values that have grown and solidified through the years. Thanks for safety, on the ground and in the air.

Who cannot feel glad about this evolved America — and what does the tea party want, I wonder? That we should not take pride in the distance we have come? That we should not support our country with taxes commensurate with the costs of fundamental services? That we should not support our schools and our soldiers and war veterans? That we should not cherish and maintain our national parks and monuments? That we should turn our backs on the needy and frail among us?

Without question, we need to be fiscally responsible, for ourselves and for the common good. But if patriotism lives, surely it takes hold in the heart of a country's people and in the unspoken connections among them all.

The roar peaks. It is the coalescing of centuries of progress, of millions of hours of ingenuity and design. Those who travel in America know the sound of it. Those who hear this roar are progressives, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, the thoughtful, the thoughtless, the apolitical, the disillusioned, the angry and the hopeful. They are, each of them, dependent on all that has gone before and all that is under way.

We are rocketing down the runway. There is a lift, as if an enormous prayer has collected itself beneath the wings and the rounded belly of this airplane.

We are flying through the air.

Elizabeth Elder, a former editor of several weekly newspapers, lives in Baltimore. Her books include "Watching A River Freeze," a collection of stories about life in rural New England. Her email is elder113c@gmail.com.