I remember when I was little, maybe 4 or 5 years old, one particularly windy day. The gusts were strong enough to catch my breath slightly, and offer resistance when I leaned forward. It quickly occurred to me that this might finally be my chance to learn how to fly.
I climbed onto the ledge of our fence and leapt off with all my might, trying to catch the wind, convinced that it was strong enough to support my weight and take me on at least a short flight. In my imagination, I could see and feel what it would be like – the sensation of air all around me, and the delightful dip in my stomach as I swooped upwards and downwards.
I don’t know for how long I tried, but I kept at it again and again before finally sensing, with some disbelief, the futility of my efforts. Undefeated, I decided that maybe it was necessary to wait for a windier day. Decades have passed, and I chuckle when I think back on that moment, but the truth is that I still love flight (…although I’ve accepted it is easier done as a passenger on an airplane).
The last time I flew was this past month, January. This flight was different, though. I was on my way home after my dad’s funeral, and my childhood felt far away.
When I booked the ticket, I hadn’t looked that carefully, and failed to realize that I would be flying on a turboprop (instead of a jet). The experience of flying on a turboprop turned out to be unique from flying on a jet.
I had paid extra for a window seat, but soon discovered that the propeller was pretty much right outside my window, and the seat was rather crammed.
I also noticed that the vibrations from the engine were definitely stronger than on a jet. I didn’t mind, though, because it increased the sensation of take off and landing, which I always find exhilarating.
The biggest difference between a jet and a turboprop, though, was that this plane flew lower and slower, so the trip took longer. Interestingly, this turned out to be exactly what made the flight special.
Why? The sky was clear and it was around sunset, so flying lower and slower, I could see the details of the world below in a way that one can’t from up at 38,000 feet in the air, like on a big 747 jet. With my cell phone on airplane mode, I took pictures of the view.
Months ago, in late October of 2015, I flew to Edmonton to see my father when he was placed under palliative care. He was thinner than I can describe, and he could hardly speak, but still managed a couple of wisecracks to make me laugh. I remember the morning that I was heading back home to Winnipeg, after that visit. It was something like 5:00 am. I sat at the airport alone, tears streaming down my face. I knew it was probably the last time I’d see my dad, and I was right.
He died early in December. The funeral was held in January.
On my flight home after the funeral, despite my sadness, I found myself also feeling reverence. Reverence for this incredible, fleeting gift of life. Reverence for that very moment, looking out that tiny window at the beautiful world bathed in the pink light of the dying day, as I flew above it all on an 18,000 Kg piece of metal.
Last year, in 2015, I lost an aunt, my father in law, and my own father. (Our two family pets also died.)
It was a hard year, but loss – like all difficult experiences, really- has a lot to teach us.
In a recent interview with The Cancer Society, Blogger Christopher Foster (more than 80 years of age) expressed one of the key lessons he’d learned as a cancer survivor: “I think that, in trying to suppress my fear, I suppressed my joy. Conversely, now that I’m facing the fear–the joy has been increasing. I’m a pretty happy guy now.” That simple idea succinctly touches on a profound truth. Numbing ourselves from sorrow or fear results in numbing ourselves from joy. Learning to face the full range of emotions that life inspires helps to make us stronger, and lead richer lives.
Today, I want to leave you with these words by author Elisabeth Kubler-Ross from the book, “To Live Until We Die”. I found the book in October, on a cart of free give-aways at the library. I didn’t read the whole book, just a few chapters, but loved her closing words:
“… To love means never to be afraid of the windstorms of life. Should you shield the canyons from the windstorms, you would never see the true beauty of their carvings… [People benefit from learning to] expose themselves to these windstorms, so that at the end of their own days, they will be proud to look in the mirror and be pleased with the carvings of their own canyon.”