Okay, so I was watching the National Geographic documentary Miracle Landing on the Hudson last night. I had just signed up for Disney+, there it was, and you know, I watched it. Probably not the best thing to do as my wife had just taken off, working a shift from Atlanta bound for London, but hey.
You know the story. US Airways Flight 1549 takes off from New York bound for Charlotte, massive bird strike at the 1.5 minute mark demolishes both engines and turns the plane into a glider. There is no hope that the plane will make it to safe harbor of any sort, and all 155 souls on board are coming to grips with a universal truth, one that gets horrifically magnified in a situation such as that.
We are all going to die.
Or, as one of the participants in that aviation miracle put it, “No one gets out of this life alive”.
I had already seen the wonderful, to my mind, movie adaptation of this story starring Tom Hanks as Captain Sully, so I knew what was coming. This was different. The real folks, the real survivors, were interviewed, backed up by actors recreating the horrors of that descent and water landing on the Hudson River. All came to the realization that the plane was really going down, that they were likely going to die this way, and that life was over.
You also know the very happy ending to this story. Everyone on board survived. Every. Single. Person.
I am at the start of what turned out to be my father’s last year of life on earth. He turned sixty two years old on July 30, 1994. I turned sixty two years old on October 24th this year. I cannot help but wonder, what did he think and feel that last ten months that he lived? Did he have any inkling, any tiny inkling at all that his life would be over soon, that he had limited time to live, love, give, experience, serve? Did he barrel ahead, thinking (as I do, or at least my wife does about me), that he would live to be eighty, ninety, ninety-six? (I am not sure why my wife got so fixated on that particular number, but there you have it) Was he feeling ill, having some vague twinges or airplane-crash-like clues that the hemorrhage that would flood his cranium with blood and set his death date at June 7, 1995 was coming?
I will never know. I don’t know that I really want to know. I am curious yet, but only for selfish reasons, obviously, and the knowledge would not bring him back, so there. Put that away.
I do not expect to die in a plane crash. I do not expect to fall off a high peak while rock climbing with my bare hands with no safety gear. I do not expect to die from cancer. I do not expect to be brutally murdered.
I would hope to die a very old man, my wife holding my hand and kissing me softly to ease my fears and whatever pain I might have (Yes, my love, you WILL outlive me, and there is to be no more argument between us about that) I would hope to be aware of my children and many of my grandchildren in the room, saying their last goodbyes to Papa. I would hope to drift off slowly, to “walk silently and peacefully over a cliff” as the wife of my mental health center mentor described his beautiful, peaceful passing at home. I would hope to have the most wondrous of deaths after the most lucky and blessed of lives, to learn of things only imagined and finally, to see Him face to face.
In the meantime, my friends, there is also the other half of that title up there. This is my time to LIVE. I had my eyes examined today. I will have a colonoscopy next week (Yes, I am so excited about that that I could just spit). I am working very hard every week. My wife and I plan to go to Arizona to hike in January. We also plan to journey to Rome and Florence, Italy in April, my first time back in Italy in fifty years. I am looking forward to my five and ten year plans at my job. Retirement is not in my vocabulary yet, if it ever truly will be.
We all MUST die, eventually, that much is clear.
We can all choose to LIVE now, and for as long as God gives us the will and ability and reason to draw breath.
This will be a very strange year for me, as I ponder and wonder and think about what my father felt and did and said and accomplished over the last ten months of his life. It will also be a gift, a wonderful gift, knowing that if this were to be my last year on earth, it would be one of the absolute best I have ever lived.