A Cessna crashed in the coastal marsh, and I reacted to the bad news, even though I did not know either victim. I reacted because people I knew reacted, and their emotions rippled my way.
My sister was one of them. High school classmate of one of the two men, knew him back when he still had the childhood Y at the end of his name, remembered him as someone of “high integrity, always calm and steady, good at whatever he put his hands to,” then she added, “he seemed invincible.”
Almost An Orphan
There’s another reason that I reacted.
Back in my kid days, my father had an elderly Cessna, old enough that it cost about the same as a new Chevrolet. He’d practice touch-‘n-go’s on the grass airstrip near our house on the farm. The cows loved that airstrip, short grass, less mosquitoes. Towards evening, he’d buzz the strip to run the cows off, so he could land.
The whole family loaded up and flew to Alabama one time, to visit Grandma. Dad had the steering, Mom had the map. Couple thousand feet up, your landmarks are railroads, rivers, water towers, those kinda things…
At first the plane was a novelty, then everybody got used to it, as if it belonged. Dad would fly, Dad would come back, and nothing ever went wrong. Until it did.
Mom and Dad, up together, after takeoff the motor starting missing, then quit.
Dad knew the area. There were woods, which means trees, rice fields, which means levees, so he chose the better option, a flat soybean field, lined up the wheels with the rows, and landed safely.
It was a fun story, once everyone was safe. No harm done, except a strip of crop, and then to figure out how to tow a plane with a tractor.
But I was old enough to hear what wasn’t being said, that we three kids, could’ve been orphans.
That was the last time Mom flew. One parent on the ground, from then on, that was the rule.
Hurt + Heal = Change
I am decades from that Almost.
When I was that age, I thought life was fairly straight line, each life starting here, and going there. I knew there were forks in the road, college or straight to work, who you married, those kinda things, but I was naïve to all the variables that could change a life, it’s path, add options, or take them away.
As I aged, I saw occasions where life was changed by good fortune, inherited money, or right place, right time.
But mostly, I saw lives changed by bad news, job lost, trust betrayed, the ambulance ride to the ER, and just like that, the future was different…
I have lived long enough to know a few things about loss.
And I have lived long enough to change my thinking about life. Instead of one life, with one way, I think we begin with the possibility of many lives, and end up with the one we actually live.
I think of them as alternative lives. Good alternatives: for example, had I learned to play guitar, I could’ve been a songwriter. I could’ve been a teacher, or professor.
There are bad alternative lives. What if I had married the girl that was wrong for me? Or when the guy ran the red light, and missed my seat by only that-much, that could’ve changed my life.
I’ve known some deaths, including the bad ones.
Where grief pain used to feel unprecedented, and un-get-over-able, I now know, from the beginning, that this too shall pass. Healing is no longer hope, it’s proven.
I admit, healing may be slow, but on the other hand, it can’t be stopped.
This I know too, that the hurt, plus the heal, forever changes me. The bigger the lick, the bigger the change.
Loss Owes Gain
As a stranger, it is not my place, to visit the grieving homes, bearing a casserole and a forced smile.
Outsiders, we can pray, and we can trust. From personal experience, we can look on with eyes of confidence, that people are splendidly designed, with secret caches of toughness, and adaptability. In pain, we are like someone under water, but within us is this instinct to swim up, to get to air, and fresh breaths.
In my losses, whether natural, tragic, or self-inflicted, I have found a mysterious balance, as if loss owes us gain. When I had, I was soft; when I lost, I was toughened. When I had, I didn’t have the have-to; when I lost, I was forced to find the make-do.
When I lost someone who loved me, or counseled me, who felt foundational, loss forced me to love myself, to trust my own thinking, and to earn my own foundation.
To put it bluntly, the best of who I am, came not from having, but from losing.
(And no, I will not seek out more loss, because I do not enjoy the pain, but I do trust the process.)
God Makes Good Omelets
Everything changes, for the families of these two men. This is a Before and After moment, for everyone, but I am especially empathizing with the children… maybe because my life could’ve been ten tons different, if my father hadn’t found a soybean field to land in…
I don’t know why God lets the egg crack, but I know that He makes good omelets. Who knows what foundation is laid now, in this hard moment, that perfectly prepares and qualifies someone, to be the right person, at the right time, to be strong, when there’s no strength, to lead when there’s no leaders, when everyone is asking God for help, there you are, no halo, but no less an angel…
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This edition of Uncle P’s Bedtime Stories is dedicated to our beautiful humanity. We feel, we feel, we feel, we heal, we heal, we heal…