A pilot talks on the loudspeaker and says we will be grounded.

I am writing from a plane that is stuck on a runway. It’s raining. Hard. I have a screaming baby behind me. Angry passengers surround me.

I have to be in Atlanta tonight, but it’s not looking good.

We have been on this god-forsaken plane for an hour, waiting out a storm. People are fussy, children scream, a man barks at a flight attendant.

A pilot talks on the loudspeaker and says we will be grounded.

People boo. A few cuss. One man throws a rotten tomato at the cockpit.

No, I’m just kidding. It wasn’t rotten.

And we sit.

One hour.

Two hours.

Three hours.

The pilot intercoms again. He says that after three hours, the government mandates he take us back to the airport.

People boo again. More swearing. A few more rotten tomatoes.

Because the only thing worse than sitting on a plane with loud infants and people carrying exotic strains of yellow fever, would be going back to the airport and sleeping on the hard floor beneath a television that blares 24-hour news.

“Just great,” one man says.

“Well this sucks,” says the old woman behind me.

“@#$%&!” says the priest across the aisle.

I am texting my wife because it looks like I am not going to make it to Atlanta until noon tomorrow.

The pilot taxis back to the terminal. People moan. The storm is getting worse. The rain sounds like gravel on a shed roof. We’re finished.

But.

At the last minute, the intercom dings. The captain says there is a slight break in the weather, and we are going to “give it a shot.”

Those are his exact words, which terrify me. You don’t want to hear “let’s give it a shot” from your pilot, your dentist, your thoracic surgeon, or your tattoo artist.

Then again, anything is better than sleeping on the airport floor.

So people applaud, some cheer. The priest is whistling like he’s at a ball game. Even the screaming baby is giggling and filling his diaper with glee.

Here we go.

The engines roar. The plane rolls forward. In a few seconds, liftoff.

Soon, we are riding through dark clouds and storms. Thunder. The rain hits hard. No visibility. Then, in one moment, it all disappears.

And I just wish you could see what I’m seeing.

We are miles above the earth. The sky is no longer dark, but blue. The clouds are golden, kissed by sunlight. It’s magnificent. If I didn’t know any better, I would think I was trapped within the opening credits of “Highway to Heaven” starring Michael Landon and Victor French.

People applaud again. We have exited Hades, and entered something that looks like the primetime-TV version of the afterlife.

And even better, we are going to make it to Atlanta tonight.

I can’t help but feel a swell of emotion about this. Because when I was a boy, my family went through hell after my father took his own life. I mean hard times. I don’t want to talk much about it, because it’s not happy stuff.

But during childhood, my world went gray—and I don’t mean figuratively. I mean literally.

As a boy, at night I would have dreams and see dark things. Even today, when I try to recall childhood, I cannot bring up a single blue sky in my memory. Not one. It’s all gray, and blah.

If you would have asked me then, I would have told you that there were no such things as pretty clouds, or sunsets, or smiling people, or applause, or the happy face of a baby when he releases deadly aromas into the recycled air of a pressurized aircraft cabin.

But that was then, and this is now.

Now I see clouds from the topside. Now I know the sky is actually blue. Now, the sunlight shines through my window so bright that I can feel it on my face.

There is a particular cloud beneath our plane—I wish I knew what kind of cloud it’s called. It looks alive, with wings. It moves back and forth like it has a mind of its own. Upways. Downways. Sideways.

People are taking pictures of this cloud with cell phones. And it’s hard to believe that only a few miles beneath us is thunder and lightning.

I have learned something in my adulthood. Something you probably learned long before I ever did because I am slow.

There are two worlds. The world I see. And the world I don’t.

Sometimes it rains. Sometimes the pilot says you’re grounded. Sometimes people you love get sick. Sometimes they die. Sometimes everything goes wrong, and all hell breaks loose. And sometimes it feels like nobody cares about how badly you hurt.

But if you can just hold on a few minutes longer; if you can just close your eyes, and count your breaths; and if you just keep waiting, you’ll see it.

There will be a break in the weather. Your pilot will say, “Let’s give it a shot,” and the plane will fly through a paradise of clouds that will blow your ever-loving mind.

If you’re lucky, you might even see Michael Landon on the ride.

Either way, one thing is for certain, you will make it to Atlanta tonight.

35 comments

  1. sharon - June 2, 2019 7:12 am

    Wow. So we’ll written it blows my mind.

    Reply
  2. Lori Klein - June 2, 2019 10:23 am

    Oh, Sean. It’s five o’clock in the morning in Texas. We are here because we have been to MD Anderson Cancer Center. My husband’s cancer has returned. They have a plan. A good one. It will come at it from all angles: lung surgery, immune therapy, chemo, maybe more. But I woke up about an hour ago, and I can’t go back to sleep. It’s pretty grey right now. Even with good plans, good people, and hope.

    So I came out to my niece’s kitchen, sat at the table and opened my email. And I found this.

    I’ll bet sometimes you wonder who you’re writing for on a given day.

    I do not pretend to know why an essay can come at just the right time, but the cancer can’t just disappear.

    I do know that so many of God’s children have listened to a whisper in their ear, and offered us love.

    Thank you for being one of those people.

    Reply
    • Terri - June 2, 2019 12:27 pm

      Lifting you and your husband up in prayer Lori.

      Reply
    • Kathy Croft - June 2, 2019 1:06 pm

      Lori, prayers for you and your husband. Cancer is an awful disease and puts us through sad & tough times. Keep fighting and praying. Thanks Sean for the reminder that God does provide beautiful sunsets, skies, and beauty that sees us through awful trials.

      Reply
    • Linda Moon - June 2, 2019 5:44 pm

      M.D. Anderson is one of the best places, if not THE best, to be when one is battling cancer. I battled it there in 2007. Your husband is in good medical hands, and also in that FRIEND’s hand that Sean wrote about a few days. Your husband is not alone. I will be praying, along with my Angel Friends. And, thanks to Sean for sharing his lovely, funny, profound posts with us!

      Reply
    • Linda Moon - June 3, 2019 7:13 pm

      Lori,
      I contacted all my fellow members in Angel Squad, a service group of volunteers for cancer survivors. All of us are praying for you and your husband. Love to you both!

      Reply
    • R - July 2, 2019 12:45 pm

      OMG Lori I have been there with my dad for the same reasons & felt the same love from God’s children there. May God wrap His arms around you and your husband & give you Peace and Healing and Comfort. Amen. God bless you!!

      Reply
  3. Toni Tucker Locke - June 2, 2019 10:46 am

    Sean, where are these replies time-stamped that someone writing you from Texas at 5:00 a.m. is stamped 10:00? Can you get your publisher to change it to Florida/Alabama time for you?
    Never mind. This isn’t of sufficient significance to worry about. We will just make it part of the entertainment for the day.

    Reply
    • Linda Moon - June 2, 2019 5:58 pm

      yep – I lost a day somewhere in these times!

      Reply
  4. Steve - June 2, 2019 10:48 am

    Excellent. What an excellent image. And spot on.

    Reply
  5. Naomi - June 2, 2019 10:49 am

    Sean, it’s odd that this is what you wrote about today. Last night my husband and I watched the Weather Channel which was showing how the Southern Airlines plane ended up crashing in New Hope, Georgia. It was flying from Huntsville to Atlanta and ended up in the middle of one of the worst storms that has ever happened in Georgia. The pilots did not know from their radar that they were flying into this storm. The hail, the size of baseballs broke their windshield and they lost both of their engines. Not only were most of the passengers on the plane killed, but a lot of people on the ground were killed when the plane hit a gas station, wiping out an entire family of 7. This happened in the late 1970s and I was working for the federal government in Atlanta. I had just made a reservation for the next week for that same flight from Huntsville to Atlanta. When I got to work the next day, I canceled my meeting and my flight. My husband had been the pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in the 1960s and knew all of the people who were killed on the ground. He also knew the people who helped the survivors. I would rather sit on the ground for 3 hours than take off in a storm. I have been on a flight once in a terrible storm, a storm we should not have been flying in. We had been delayed at the airport for hours because of this storm but ended up taking off anyway. I thought that if we got off of this plane safely that I was going to quit my job the next day but I couldn’t afford to quit because I was a single mother with 2 small children.

    Reply
    • Susan Tolley - June 2, 2019 11:44 am

      I’ve never flown but my daughter in law had to fly to Arizona for work. She sent me a picture from the plane as the sun was rising above the clouds. It was GLORIOUS! You described it to perfection. You are gifted beyond words, you can bring a picture to life and take us with you on your journeys. I’m really sorry about the diaper full of glee though! 🙂

      Reply
  6. Jan - June 2, 2019 12:13 pm

    Thanks, Sean! I needed that!

    Reply
  7. Bobbie - June 2, 2019 1:04 pm

    Prayers to Lori and her husband. God bless you. Second, regarding Toni who wrote about the time on replies. I guess there’ll always be those who see only the gray, missing out on the beauty of sunshine above the clouds, of Hope when there seems to be none. So sad.
    I rarely read something that can have me laughing one minute and by the end am in tears. Another beautiful story. Thank you Sean. I needed a laugh, and also needed my eyes opened to reality, as happened when I read Lori’s reply. My little Shih Tzu had surgery two days ago, so this has been my focus … then I read about Lori’s husband. God speaks to us in different ways…He spoke loudly this morning, and all because of your story Sean. You never know the far reaching effect of words once spoken and I just can’t imagine how many are touched by your words every day. Something I read once regarding words: “Are they kind, are they true, are they necessary.” So applicable today. Thank you again.

    Reply
  8. Jack Darnell - June 2, 2019 1:19 pm

    So you got to fly with an old USN pilot, good stuff. I forwarded this to Sherry sitting beside me. she may not enjoy it, but she will remember some flights. hahaha
    Good one, now you can ‘relapse’. Or just fall to pieces!
    cooler here in NC,
    Sherry and jack

    Reply
  9. Markar - June 2, 2019 2:00 pm

    Thank you for the picture, Sean, of seeing beyond the circumstances. Like Lori (comments above), I’m in Texas and my husband is sick. Not cancer, but his heart. He needs surgery to prevent paralysis from his lower back down, but his heart is too weak. Like other parts of the country, we’ve had our fair share of rain. The gray clouds and humidity become oppressive. I find myself crying with the rain and my heart so heavy I can hardly breathe. We married at 18 years old. Our 48th anniversary is this month. Four children; 15 grandchildren. This is hard. So hard. Lori, I pray for grace and mercy to abound in the lives of our families. I pray that we always have hope. Bless you, Lori. You too, Sean.

    Reply
  10. Carol Heidbreder - June 2, 2019 2:10 pm

    Again Sean, your words were perfect and have gathered up even more prayer for a very sick man. And prayers they are. I too have made the many many trips to MDAnderson with a very sick husband. I CAN say “I know how you feel,Lori” and really mean it. You and your husband and family are now on my perpetual prayer list. And, you are in a Holy place. The holy spirit is everywhere there! And see if you can catch a young person playing an instrument softly and beautifully in the main floor lobby. You are in a place of hope and God’s got this! Sean, look what you did today! Does it get any better?

    Reply
  11. Cathi Russell - June 2, 2019 4:13 pm

    Years ago, I traveled constantly & flying was a twice a week thing. I was 25, flying out of Washington DC on my way south & in the middle seat was an older guy (30s) who was in sheer panic mode. It was snowing like crazy & we’d been de-iced twice. He was on his way to meet his girlfriend in Miami and was an ESPECIALLY nervous flyer. I held his hand the entire 3 hour flight, dried his tears & made him laugh. We both survived a very turbulent flight & I turned him over to someone else when I deplaned in Atlanta. Two weeks later, a huge bouquet of flowers was delivered as thanks from he & his girlfriend. (I was hoping he hadn’t made her up to hold hands with a cute 25 year old woman!) You never know what a difference you can make in someone’s life…but God always knows. Thanks for that smile & memory, Sean!

    Reply
  12. Linda Moon - June 2, 2019 5:57 pm

    god forsaken planes – the worst kind……. swearing priests – the worst kind……
    “give it a shot” – the worst pilot statement……. exiting Hades and entering Atlanta – the best break. Tripping it to Atlanta through mind-blowing clouds is a good thing!

    Reply
  13. Andy Gartman - June 2, 2019 6:58 pm

    Hey Sean,
    Hope you don’t have that kind of trouble getting to Montgomery for your gig Tuesday night. Patricia and I will be in the audience. Looking forward to some great stories and songs.
    Your preacher buddy.

    Reply
    • MermaidGrammy - June 2, 2019 9:21 pm

      Hey, Andy and ‘Tricia,
      Where will he be and what time in Montgomery? It’s not so far from Atlanta!
      Ellouise P

      Reply
      • Pat - June 3, 2019 1:29 am

        I think Sean will be at the Methodist Annual Conference held at Frazer United Methodist Church…hope this helps…not sure what time, but you can give the church a phone call.

        Reply
  14. Kathryn Louise - June 2, 2019 7:24 pm

    So true , so easily overlooked in everyday hustle. I have read many of your pieces, and love them all. Plain spoken from the heart…that’s a gift. Today I am knocked out by the comments, and have new reasons to pray. Thank you and those who open their hearts to you and the rest of us.

    Reply
  15. Gary - June 2, 2019 7:29 pm

    I’ve flown once. I will not be flying again.
    Prayers to Lori and her husband.

    Reply
  16. Kathi Klein - June 2, 2019 7:54 pm

    Hello, Lori’s husband is my brother. No one ever had a better partner, and she is greatly loved. So Sean, the ripple reaches far when you write, and many are comforted. Thank you for being a comfort to her, and therefore, a comfort to me.

    Reply
  17. Shelton A. - June 2, 2019 8:18 pm

    Now, there’s a story worth thinking about for a while. Thanks.

    Reply
  18. Joe Patterson - June 3, 2019 2:33 am

    Thanks hope all is well

    Reply
  19. Lori Klein - June 3, 2019 3:50 am

    Thanks to each of you who have expressed kindness and prayers. It does help.
    Markar, Carol and others who need it, I will be praying for you as well.

    Reply
  20. Lisa Tindell - June 6, 2019 6:55 pm

    I both hate and love storms as a general rule, but there are some storms you can’t wait to leave behind. Every storm is different and the effect they have on the ones they rain on is different every time. I am (and have been many times) in a storm right now. It’s not as bad as some storms I’ve been through, but today, I needed this. I needed to know that there is an escape from a storm if we only hold on. I know that my lot in life is to go through a storm or two and my condition after the storm is up to me. I’ll hold on until this storm passes or I fly right out of it…either way, thank you for sharing this. It gives me courage to “give it a shot.”

    Reply
  21. Rita M. Stebbing - July 2, 2019 9:14 am

    Sean, I am a 73 year old woman who has believe since childhood that I live in a dark and gray world. To quote you I also “cannot bring up a single blue sky in my memory. Not one. It’s all gray, and blah.” For every event in my life I must have my backup plans A,B&C before I can face that event. It is my daily challenge to be prepared for the inevitable before I can walk out my door to face the day. I always felt I was the only person like this in the world. It is nice to know that at least one other person has been through part of the same thing. You have given me hope that I will one day know the sky is actually blue and see the sunlight shining through my windows. Thank you for the hope.

    Reply
  22. Kathryn - July 2, 2019 12:19 pm

    Your pilot saying we’re gonna “give it a shot” is the worst thing I’ve heard since I went to the ER last December after a fall and the doctor looked at my x-rays and said, “Well, you’ve really done a number on your foot.” File these under “things you never want to hear.”

    Great column. There’s always a silver lining. Or blue skies. One or the other.

    Reply
  23. Russell McLaney - July 2, 2019 1:23 pm

    I’m reminded of the scripture, “Darkness may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning “

    Reply
  24. Lori Klein - July 2, 2019 2:20 pm

    My husband Kevin had double lung surgery on June 20 with good, clean margins. He is currently considering cancer free. We are at home in Arkansas, and he is feeling stronger each day. The immuno Therapy drug was approved by the FDA two weeks ago, meaning insurance will now cover it should he need it. My son was married a week prior to the surgery to a young woman that we all love. It’s raining today in Searcy, but I’m find with that. I’ve had a glimps of what’s above those clouds.
    Thank you for your prayers and kind words. That was a sweet gift.

    Reply
  25. Martha Martin Black - July 2, 2019 6:17 pm

    Thank you so much for this post. You’ve learned the hard way in life how to keep looking for the best no matter the situation. There’s always an end game and a resolution and no matter how it goes, you seem make your way to find the best in it. People and circumstances are sometimes a hard nut to crack, but you do a really good job of persevering and pushing into the goodie. The good stuff is just above the cloud……

    Reply
  26. Martha Martin Black - July 3, 2019 12:16 am

    I was just thinking, so think the Gaithers would sing, “Lift Me Up Above the Shadows” right about now.

    Lift me up above the shadows,
    Plant my feet on higher ground,
    Lift me up above the clouds, Lord,
    Where the pure sunshine is found;
    Lift me up above my weakness,
    Lift me up into Thy strength,
    Lift me up above the shadows,
    Till I stand with Thee at length.

    Me? In gonna revise shadows to clouds……….

    Reply

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