I had a brush with death on a flight home the other night and I haven’t been the same since.
Now before you roll your eyes at the drama of it all, know that I am a seasoned flier who is usually on a flight twice a week for my day job. Not even a national terrorist act phases me; I am quite sure I was one of the first customers to get back on a plane after 9-11 (I had a few double scotches in me, but still!)
This flight was different. After being grounded for hours in Rochester, we got a thumbs-up for wheels-up. Our wee prop plane pierced the foreboding black clouds and from that moment on, we were lashed about the cabin like the beans inside a maracas.
I was grateful for the man in seat 23B who wailed out to no one in particular, making it safe for the other men to join the womenfolk in expressing their terror aloud. With a seat near the wing, I was sure to be the first to know when the crushing impact of one of these turbulence pockets would separate the propellers from the wing.
My first instinct was to babble a Hail Mary faster than the disclaimers at the end of an automobile radio advertisement. Music often calms this savage beast, so I closed my eyes, slipped on the ear buds and let the island rhythms of Bob Marley lap my frazzled mental shoreline.
That worked for a while, but soon the intensity of the turbulence picked up. This really looked like the end!
I began at that very moment an inventory of my life and came to the following conclusions:
There was no one below me who would be left wondering how I felt about them. Most people got a piece of my heart, and a few got a piece of my mind. Most people at the funeral would know which side they were on.
There were no regrets. I might not have been sexy enough to get the head high school cheerleader or savvy enough to buy Apple or Microsoft stock back in 1984, but I got lucky enough on the side and did all right for myself in areas where it counted.
I got a lot farther in life than anyone thought I would, including me. The three books I wrote were three more than anyone expected out of a C-student. In crafting those books, I broke the sheepshanks of not making too much of a spectacle of yourself and worrying about what the neighbors thought of you, which keeps 99.8 percent of the Irish and Irish American races from pursuing their creative dreams.
I had no sooner smugly patted myself on the back before the captain came on to inform us that we were circling around Newark Airport and that we had about 20 minutes of gas left. Lovely!
With my personal inventory complete, a peace came over me as I contemplated what running out of petrol at 20,000 feet might look and feel like. This personal inventory confirms that should I be fortunate enough to land safely, there was nothing more to do. Nothing to fix. Nothing to atone for. No debts to be paid. Nothing.
From nothing, I created something. I began painting on this blank slate what life would look like when there was nothing left to do.
I took the words “more” and “better” out of the conversation, as those would reference improving on something that already happened. From there, a few declarations came.
The first, which hit me like a ton of bricks, was how quickly I could have my life sorted out around where I have been and where I was going when I didn’t have my nose buried in an electronic device! I noticed when the flight attendant told me to power down, my peace and innate intellectualism powered up.
The second declaration – give away your writing. According to Publishing Perspectives magazine, 81 percent of Americans feel that they have a book in them – and should write it.
I’d have to believe that number is higher for Irish Americans, who have a genetic gift of the gab.
Enough about me and my books! I can be the agent that helps those folks to deliver on their creative dreams. That will be my life’s mission from now on.
The third and final declaration? If future journeys require loading myself onto a prop plane, I will take to the highways instead!
I never thought I would be so grateful to be in the city of Newark, but there I was, still peaceful and lit up by the sight of the road ahead.
There’s nothing like a little turbulence to shake some sense into you!
Mike Farragher’s observations on life can be found on www.thisisyourbrainonshamrocks.com
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