Long ago and in an airplane far away, I had an epiphany about death. Funny that tonight I remembered it after receiving a phone call telling me my old friend's flight from this world to the next will be very soon now.
It was a rainy morning when I boarded a plane in Kansas City bound for my red dirt hometown in North Carolina. In fact, it was raining so hard that I was beginning to have second thoughts about whether I really needed to see my family anyway. I don't trust whatever unseen magic it is that keeps a plane aloft and I worried the driving rain might throw a wrench in the voodoo.
Were I not a poor person who would have been sick at the idea of throwing away the couple hundred bucks the ticket cost, I would have phoned my family and told them I had suffered a nasty stroke that left me with enough sense to use a phone, but not enough to be expected to use my seat cushion as a floatation device.
The rain pounded so hard I could hear it battering the pedestrian tunnel as I walked from the terminal to the plane and the thunder was just tremendous. I was so scared and I wished I had been smart enough to have spent the two days driving rather than the couple hours this clearly doomed plane trip was supposed to take.
After buckling up and taking detailed mental notes of everything the flight attendant was saying, I white knuckled the arm rests and watched out my window at the sky that looked more like late evening than early morning and prayed to God for forgiveness of everything I'd ever done wrong.
The engines roared and even before I had a chance to finish listing all my sins, we were in the air. That could be because it happened so fast or because my sins were so many.
In the twinkling of an eye, I watched through the airplane window as the dark and stormy night, full of its terrifying sounds and paralyzing what if's, suddenly and dramatically disappeared as the airplane passed from one side of the clouds to the other. In its place a new image so breathtakingly beautiful, it's hard to put into words.
It was morning, but in the truest sense of the word. The sun was on the rise and as it hit the tops of the clouds, it looked like God had spun gold as far as the eye could see. Tranquility swallowed me up and all fear was immediately gone. I was overcome with sweet emotion and tears filled my eyes as I gazed across this secret Heaven.
The only thing that changed from one moment to the next was that I was on the other side of the clouds. The storm still raged on beneath my feet, but it had lost its power over me. I could see clearly now and thundering raindrops seemed such a silly thing to be afraid of from my new perspective.
Had anyone told me even moments before how lovely and peaceful and incredibly awe-inspiring life would be up there, I couldn't have believed them. It would have seemed to me like nothing more than a nice story someone was weaving to help ease my fear. I'm a human and as such, my vision is limited to what I can see right in front of me. I see nothing beyond the here and now.
This is death, I thought. This is how it must be to pass from life to life. Seamless, easy, and scary for only the time it takes to exhale one last time. Unimaginable beauty and peace beyond understanding waits just on the other side of the clouds.
The spun gold of Heaven.
My friend is making ready now for his journey. He's hanging on with all that he has left, afraid of the storm that rages all around him. It's so dark for him, so ugly…but only for a moment longer. Soon he'll be there, in that place of understanding and serenity… that place on the other side of the clouds. I picture him there now and it eases this ache.
I love you, my sweet boy. I will miss knowing you are here on this plain and I cry at the realization that the years of hope that you might be around the next corner have ended. Now I will stop praying my selfish prayers of life here and begin offering prayers that you'll have the strength to go, comforted by the knowledge that you will leave behind lives changed and your purpose fulfilled.
It's time for you to fly home.
Copyright © 2004-2005, Sherri Bailey
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