Where the rubber meets the tarmacPublished 7:17am Sunday, April 15, 2012
Column: Power for Life, by David Larson
Delta flight 4204 took off from Detroit International Airport for Elmira, N.Y., without a hitch. The stewardess was pretty. She looked something like Barbara Streisand with sharp jawbones and blond hair shaped to accent her face. A guy up front flirted with her while asking for some drinks. I was sitting in row seven of the regional jet, already reading my book, excited to prepare for next week’s study group.
About 20 minutes into the flight, the pilot came over the loudspeaker. “We’re having some trouble with the landing gear. We are going back to Detroit where they have the fire trucks and personnel available to handle our situation.”
Handle our situation? What was our situation? Couldn’t they handle this in Elmira? They don’t have enough fire engines there?
Some time passed and the pilot came on again. “We need to burn off some more fuel before attempting to land back in Detroit. Please remain seated and keep your seat belts buckled.”
The passengers looked at each other with confused faces. What does he mean “attempt to land?” Doesn’t he think we are actually going to land? What could be the reason to burn off more fuel before touching down?
A buzz was building throughout the cabin, and I realized I was making eye contact with nearly every other passenger I could see. It seemed we were all checking out each others’ faces, trying to get clues of how serious the situation was. I remembered what the flight attendant had said about each of us noticing where the nearest emergency exit was. Mine was right behind me.
My seat partner cracked a joke, trying to ease the tension. I, too, turned back to the fellow behind me in row eight, the exit aisle.
“Looks like you may get some action,” I said, suggesting he may need to actually do something with that 40-pound exit window the flight attendant had told him he may be needing to handle.
“I’m ready,” he fired back with confidence.
I could see the stewardess up front, talking periodically on the phone, presumably with the pilot, and each time hanging up and managing to look quite relaxed. She knew we were watching her for clues. Was she trained to look calm like this?
I pulled up a few pictures quickly of my wife and daughters on my iPod, and smiled with awareness of my love for them.
I looked at the cover of my book, almost laughing at the irony of its title, “Your Immortal Reality.” I must admit this was comforting to me in that moment.
I remember being asked one time by a friend if I was ready to die. I found it challenging to answer that question. I didn’t think I was afraid to die, but sometimes I wish I could do some things over, with another chance to get it right. How does one know until you are actually faced with it? After all, none of us knows for sure when we are actually going home.
We could see the flashing lights of the fire engines and ambulances lined up on the runway now.
I noticed the calm in my body and the peace I felt inside. I thought with gratitude about the vast experiences of my life, and realized I had learned a lot this time ‘round. If it was my time to go, I was grateful for the chances I had been given to leave the world a better place than I found it. I had loved, and I had been loved. What else could be more important? There was nothing to fear. I knew I was safely in God’s hands.
As we braced for impact, I was still at peace, and smiling, thanking the Lord for His many mercies.
When the wheels finally hit the runway, it took us only a few seconds to realize the tires were rolling! The landing gear held! The plane came to a stop and we all exited onto the tarmac.
Delta assured us we would be put on another plane as soon as possible. We were. And we were grateful for the care that each employee of Delta Airlines took to assure our safety.
And then I smiled once more, realizing I had been given yet another chance to love again.
David Larson, M.S., C.P.C.C., is a licensed psychologist, life coach, and leadership trainer. He can be contacted at the Institute For Wellness, 507-373-7913, or at his website, www.callthecoach.com.