Contemplating my own mortality is not something I enjoy. I know intellectually that I’m going to die someday, like we all are. But when you’re faced with a situation that forces you to confront your worst fears, well, it makes you think.
Sunday night I was flying back to California from Chicago. We were a little late leaving as they had to de-ice the plane before we took off, but that went smoothly. About 2/3 of the way through the flight, somewhere over Utah, I heard and felt a loud thunk, and I knew right away it was not turbulence. I looked around me and no one seemed concerned, so I went back to reading my trashy novel. About 20 minutes later the pilot came on the intercom and told us that loud noise was the compressor on the #2 engine stalling, but it was working normally now. He said they were monitoring the situation, and were still continuing on to San Francisco. But about 45 minutes later as we began to descend, the plane began shuddering a bit and then the lights flickered and all the TV screens went black. This was alarming to me, but the cabin was eerily quiet. A few minutes later the pilot came back on and told us that the #2 engine was not digging the altitude change so they shut it down, meaning we were flying with only one engine. He said we were still scheduled to arrive on time on San Francisco, and although they were not anticipating any problems with landing, a crash crew would be standing by just in case. The pilot seemed calm and not at all alarmed, which was reassuring.
Still, you just don’t ever want to hear a pilot on a plane you are on ever saying anything containing the words crash crew.
The cabin was still pretty quiet, except for some hushed conversations, which I was grateful for since I don’t think it would have taken much for me to completely freak out. I know these planes can fly just fine with one engine (I read after that they can even take off with just one too), but all I could think was, What if what is wrong with the #2 engine is also wrong with the #1 engine??!? What if there’s a catastrophic failure? Oh my god, what if we crash? I’m not ready to die, dammit, I’m about to get married! I have shit to do still!
I thought about reading to distract my thoughts but figured if we were going to crash, I didn’t want my final act to be reading some crappy book. So I closed my Kindle and instead thought about my life. I thought of my loved ones, my family, my fiance and my friends, and I knew that if I died this night, I would not die unloved. I thought of all the amazing things I have gotten to do…I’ve traveled the world, gone sky-diving and scuba-diving, climbed mountains, rafted rivers, explored caves, met amazing people, enjoyed good health. I have been so very lucky in my life.
But despite all these happy and grateful thoughts, I still was not ready to die, I fiercely wanted to live. I still have so much I want to do, places to go (the Galapagos, Patagonia), jewelry to make, a man I love dearly and want to grow old with.
As you’ve probably guessed by now, we did land safely and smoothly. Everyone on the plane applauded when we did, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one on that flight who had been contemplating their own mortality. I was so very happy to be on solid ground. I got home late, after midnight, took a wonderful hot shower and fell gratefully into bed.
The next morning I went for a hike. With some recent rain everything was damp and cool and green, the sun was shining. There is nothing like Spring in Sonoma County, with the emerald green grass, the blooming California Poppies, a Bewick’s wren singing from the oak trees. Except for the 4 years I was traveling, I’ve lived in this gorgeous area all my life.
As I walked I thought of my upcoming move to Illinois…Spring comes later there, it had snowed the day I left, and everything is still brown, the trees are bare. And Illinois is so flat, I know I’m going to miss the hills and the mountains here, and the California summer, with its fog-cooled mornings and sunny afternoons. But I can’t help thinking there’s a lesson here, about finding beauty wherever it is you walk. In realizing how amazing it is just to be alive, to be walking on this earth amongst those we love, surrounded by so many amazing things, breathing in the fresh spring air. There will be new places to explore, new people to meet, new birds to discover. A life to forge with the man I adore. I will find beauty there, too.
As I Walk with Beauty
As I walk, as I walk
The universe is walking with me
In beauty it walks before me
In beauty it walks behind me
In beauty it walks below me
In beauty it walks above me
Beauty is on every side
As I walk, I walk with Beauty
~A Traditional Navajo Prayer