The Meaning of Life from 20,000 feet.


Every single time I get in an airplane I think that I might die. Every. Single. Time. I don’t mean in a terrified way. I’m not afraid to fly at all. It’s just always a thought that creeps into my head, and the more I try to get it to creep back out the stronger the thought gets.  Looking out at the cloud formations and often the sunset, it feels otherworldly. I almost feel for a moment that I am in heaven, or taking a timeout from life.  My mind wanders to places it doesn’t normally wander, and inevitably I think about my life and if I would die happy if  “this was it.”

I can remember specific flights having these thoughts…flying home from my Grandmother’s funeral, heading to my first duty station, leaving the country and heading to London for my first big adventure at nineteen. Each time I would think about dying my thoughts would be, “but I’m so young!” “I haven’t met the one yet.” “What would my family do without me?” “My career isn’t where I want it to be!” Etc. Etc.

I’ve flown in hundreds of airplanes, everything from huge international jets bound for Asia , to domestic puddle jumpers going an hour to the adjacent state, to military flights out of Bahrain where you sit in sort of a hammock seat and water drips on your head for 6 hours. I’ve had nightmare plane rides and been in the middle of plenty of turbulence, but in all of these flights, I’ve never felt closer to death than on my flight to Newport News, VA last week.

I had a weird feeling as soon as I got on the plane and there was a six-month pregnant woman from Australia, holding a one-year-old and telling us all what our chances of survival were if the plane went down.  She was supposed to have arrived in Newport News on Tuesday night, but kept getting displaced because of the storm Dorito or whatever it was called (Derecho). I cut her a bit of slack for being obnoxious  since it was now Thursday and she must be exhausted and closed my eyes to rest.

I woke up with the Captain telling us that we can no longer land in Newport News because of the storm, but that we were going to try to “beat the storm” to Norfolk. They then came down the aisles and collected everything out of the backseat pockets including magazines and tried to fit as much of our carry on items that were under the seats into the overhead compartments. In my hundreds of flights I have never seen that before, so that scared me.

About 10 minutes passed and then we headed into the worst turbulence I have ever experienced in my life. It was like being on a roller coaster. The plane was lurching up and down violently and at one point I looked out the window and we were tilted so far to the left that from my view it looked like we were almost sideways. It sounds dramatic, but I really did think that this might be “it.”

I found myself getting emotional and calm at the same time and the thought that came over me wasn’t about what I haven’t achieved yet or what I haven’t done. My thought was , “but if I die, how will they know how much I love them?” “They” being my family, friends, and the handful of boys who have held my heart in their not quite right hands.

As silly as it sounds, I thought I might die and that was my pervading thought. I’m a little hippie dippy lately, so I apologize, but in that moment I realized that the only thing that matters when we leave this earth is how we have loved. That’s so powerful and so obvious, but it was a nice reminder.

Obviously I did not die. After 10 minutes in the storm, the pilot decided that it was too rough and we had an emergency landing in New Bern. I’ll tell you what though. It changed me. It changed the way I dealt with my family while I was home. It made me give my parents two hugs before I left instead of just one, because honestly you never know.

So that was my first lesson in a trip filled with them. I’m so happy to be home.

I promise my next post will be less esoteric and will be about ombre dresses and Star Wars or something.



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