The Plane Ride
It's not every day I think about dying. To be honest, most days it is the furthest thing from my mind. Except for the occassional death of a friend or family member, it is something most of us just don't think about. Most of us don't want think about it. We believe that death will somehow pass us by, if we don't talk about it or think about it. Even though we know it is inevidible. It is only when we come so close to death, so close we brush against the sickle in the grim reaper's grasp, we realize how fragil this life is. Some days, most days, I live in fast forward. Bouncing in and out of bed, putting my duties somewhere in between. So when Bob asked me to go to see his mom and dad, I excitedly accepted the invitation. It was the opportunity to slow down pace and reflect for awhile. I was happy to be flying in his newly purchased plane. I am always welcoming a new adventure.
I have flown about 13 times commercially. I'm comfortable in the air. I am pretty comfortable anywhere. Though this is my first time in a small plane, Bob is the pilot. I have all the faith in the world in his capibility. I am seated beside him in his 1970 Piper Arrow. It is a single engine turbo prop, seats four. His lovely wife, Mary, is in the back. We take off smoothly from Conway, S.C. I stare out the window in a state of awestruck wonder. The view is great. Visibility is near perfect. The next three hours during our flight to Hagerstown, Maryland are the best I have ever spent in the air. We circle Bob's parent's house so Mary can take some photos. We land at Hagerstown right on schedule. We are met by his parents followed by his brother, Billy. We enjoy each other's company over a meal. Stuffed lobster, delicious, all is well with the world. Bob's dad tells his favorite story about the time he survives a plane crash while hunting up in Alaska. I've heard it at least ten times but I love it and he loves to tell it. I listen like some long lost grand kid of his.
Only this time he asks, " Clint, you were'nt afraid of flying with Bob?"
" You gotta die of something", I replied. Of course we chuckled about the possibity of us crashing but failed to believe in any real danger. We said our goodbyes and boarded the plane. Bob's parents looking on as we attempt to start the plane. The plane doesn't start right away. Between start attempts, Bob's dad is still making wise cracks about flying with Bob and his non-starting, thirty- nine year old, plane We're laughing. We're laughing to hard to see the signs. The signs are all around. Once the engine fires up, we tell that little voice inside it's okay. We take off smoothly from Hagerstown at 7:45 pm.
The view is more spectacular than before. An awesome sun sets to my right. I take some photos, As twillight comes, we fly over some mountains. The lights on the ground begin to shimmer in the distance. The time is now 8:30pm . I am relaxed and soon fall asleep. At 9:45, I am awaken by smooth upward motion in the plane.
Still nodding, I hear Bob's voice in my headset say, " That was scary".
" What was scary?" I asked unconcerned, and yawning.
Mary asked, " Babe why does the plane feel like it keeps going up and down?"
"Because it is" Bob replied promptly. " I have taken it off auto pilot incase I have to ..."
"What was scary ?", I interrupted again.
" We lost avionics for a while, but there back up now." he answered calmly. I checked out the instrument panel. Although I am no pilot, everything seemed to be working properly. I glanced at the GPS it was working when Bob radioed the Potamac tower.
" Potamac, this is piper arrow 5013sierra we just lost avianics. They're back up now. Can you do a flight following all the way to Conway? Over", asked Bob. There was a muffled response, followed by a weird static noise. The kind you always hear on those disaster movies.
" Bob did we just lose the radio?" , I asked.
" Yep", he promptly replied, as he frantically tried pushing puttons to bring the radio back online. I knew we could not get air traffic control updates but we had lights. Other planes could see us. I reasured myself we were not in any real danger. I sat up in my seat. I was finally awake. At this point, I was not afraid but I might have been. If I had known what Bob knew. Without the radio, we couldn't turn the runway lights on at Conway. Ignorance truly is bliss.
I was staring at the instrument panel when the GPS flashed.
" Bob, we just lost the GPS", I stated.
" I know ", he quickly replied. I focused on the positive point, the engine is still running. Then it started. One by one, all the instuments, began to systematicly shut down.With each failing device, I felt more fear swelling inside me. The cockpit was now dark. The strobe lights on the wings would alternate red then green. The flashing reminding me of a haunted house at the carnival.Only for me the horror was real. I recited Bible verses to try calm myself. I remember silently praying the twenty-third Psalm. I keep repeating second Timothy chapter one verse seven. "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." I watched as the strobe on my wing faded. Then turned to see the one on Bob's wing flash one last time. We were flying in the dark and there's no radar and no lights. No other planes can see us. I tried to talk but realized my headset was not working.
Taking off my headset, I shouted over the engine, "What can I do?"
" Hold the flashlight," Bob ordered,"look for an airport, we gotta set this baby down". As I was taking hold of the flash light, I tried to hide my hands were shaking.
" Be looking for a green light followed by a white light rotating," Bob's actions were calm and calculated but I could sense the urgency in his voice. I never felt so helpless. There was nothing I could do. Nothing to help myself. We were 4500 feet, cruising at 140mph and all I had to hold onto was Jesus. My heart was beating so hard it ached inside my chest. I had so much energy my skin was tingling.I could only do one thing. Pray.
" God," I said, " I know you got me. If it is your will for me to die today, then thy will be done. Can I please go without being scared out of my mind".
Instantly, my heart began to slow. The grip of fear released me. Though I was still excited, I was totally trusting the Lord. There was no doubt he'd save me or welcome me into his kingdom. I focused on this thought. It was the best feeling in the world. I had trusted Jesus as my savior, enjoyed the Christain life, but never understood the awesome way of a Christain death. You can exercise your faith anyway you want but until you've had your faith tested this way it's hard to imagine. I looked at Bob, my friend of nine years, I remembered he doesn't believe. We have agreed to disaree on the subject of Jesus but that did not stop me for reminding the Lord he was not ready.
"Please God, save Bob, he's not ready.", I pleaded. I never asked God to spare my life but if he wanted to, right along with Bob's, that was alright by me.
" There it is ", Bob shouting as he pointed to the becon. The beautiful, rotating, (my new favorite color) green beacon. At 9:55 we began our decent. My mind was filled with all sorts uncertainty, but my heart was'nt.
" What about the landing gear?" I questioned.
" It's down", Bob answered quickly. I felt he was hoping instead of confident. Since we had no landing lights, we couldn't tell how fast we were coming towards the ground. In the cover of darkness, Bob made a textbook landing that I hope will always be my favorite. I 'm not interested in a more exciting landing anywhere in the near or very distant future.
The airport was abandoned. Other than being safely on the ground, I didn't know where we were. I called to tell my wife and mother about the ordeal. The police soon arrived. After the police searched the plane, we decided to stay overnight in Henderson, N.C.
The next morning, airport mechanics fail to find a problem with the plane. Realizing the only dangerous element was the darkness, I decided to fly back to Conway with Bob. After all, no height, no depth can keep us from the love of Christ. He is God no matter where I am.He's the God of the universe. I cannot draw one breath he doesn't give me. Flying in the back seat headed for home, it comes to me. Life is like the airplane ride. Quickly cruising along, sailing into the wind, thoughtlessly progressing towards the destination. All is well until the darkness comes. Once all the devices you thought kept you safe are gone, no radio no radar, you finally realize you are not in control. All you can hold onto is your faith, if you have any. The plane can go down at anytime. All you can hope for is an expert pilot and a soft place to land. How long I live, does not determine how much I live. We are all dying. Some people are just dying faster than others.Facing life without fear of death is the only way to truly live. We spend most of our time chasing dollars to save for some special occasion. This moment is that special occassion. With the fundumentals of our nation eroding away, it is time to put our faith in assurance instead of insurance. On Christ the solid rock I stand all other ground is sinking sand All other ground is an airplane destined to crash, a ship certain to sink and a hell to pay. It's not every day I think about living but most days I do.