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.
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.
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.