It's getting later, the gathering of darkness outside, the night almost here. What is night but short space when the dark dims so soon, and the echo of a owl's wings brush against the windowsill. Just a short interlude in the sun's dance. Despite the solitude of a hotel room far away, I've enjoyed a little time away from home, as night gathers into warm folds of dark cloth against my cold legs, brushing away any remains of a chill. Just sitting as the brightness dims to a fog shrouded glow of streetlight. Breathing deep as I watch the trees, a few stubborn leaves still attached, a brace of tattered flags against ancient wood, branches a canopy of familiar order. Sitting until a full moon rose, and eased a heart quickened by new thoughts, long buried feelings that want to go to paper, but cling to my brain.
As moonlight creeps in, a cup of tea fills the room with warmth and soothes my spirit as the outside world begin to stir. The room is dark, unfamiliar, nothing to do this evening but open the computer and put my thoughts, my story to paper, gathering those thoughts that scatter around the room this evening as if a window had been left open.
You're all had some evenings, preoccupied with work and life and deadlines and every one's needs but your own that you miss so much. Missed as you are busy planting the seeds of gardens that grew only weeds, of preflighting craft that would never fly, while moments for the things that make you truly happy are so very far away.
I missed the moonwalk because I was a young teen, because frankly I didn't care. I was wrapped up in the loneliness and fears of adolescence, friends and a new school. Missed a momentous event wrapped in my own angst. Missed grasping the complexity of fate that brought those men to that mission.
White burned on the launching pad at Cape Canaveral in 1967, with Chaffee and Grissom. To die while flying is something we all know is a possibility, but the two of them had already moved passed that fear, jockeying to the finish of an event that would mark our century, the race to the moon. Then the sudden unforeseen future immolated their dream and Aldrin went in his place.
What if we knew, that moment, that experience was the last we would ever have.
We all do things, see places,see people, thinking. I'll see them later. I'll tell them that something that would mean the world to them later.
But we don't.
Things change, people change. I remember visiting Stonehenge, and then years later, when I went back there was a fence around it.
I remember the last flight in my favorite jet airplane. Pilots are like many drivers. We say we just like the experience, but there is always that one car that sucks us in, and the feeling for it is as akin to those things we won't say to a human being as we'll ever know. That day, if I'd known it was the last flight, I might have paid more attention. I could have pulled the remnants of the flight into my memory before the hangar doors closed so that on late nights in hotels I could draw them out slowly over a cold beer and smile. But, at the time, it was just a flight, just another too early wake up call, the rush to get the cargo loaded up, the weather checked one last time, coordinate customs and security, contract fueling and a slot for landing that wouldn't get us shot down. Just another launch in a hurry to get to someplace that in 10 years no one would care about. So for the life of me, I couldn't remember.
But our mission was done and it was likely that another 3 letter group would now take the airplane. I'd still have a job, still flying, just not THIS airplane, this serial number, my favorite bird.
So I grabbed a Cub from the local airport and took it for a last flight. Drifting along in a small airplane is nothing at all like flying a jet, and the only thing I've found that's close is sailing. It's like those evenings as a kid when you could lay out in the backyard, on your back looking upwards, trying to name the stars, watching for satellites that moved through the clouds on their slow steady line. The deep relaxed breath of no worries, that's what flight is like in a small taildragger. To drift in the presence of the clouds, far enough above the earth is to get a sense of what it is to be blessed. It is said that when Christ needed to center himself he did forty days in the wilderness. I think I get a taste of that when I get days in the air.
I chose to fly out over the lake, as the water is my second favorite home. I soar above the crystal waters and drink in deep of the day, quenching a thirst not born of the body, but of the spirit. An eagle drifts past me. I pop the window open to catch a scent of the earth and hear the drone of the little engine. Time settles comfortably into itself, resetting my own internal clock with the reassurance of continuity.
I still had a job, I just didn't know exactly what the next mission would be. But I'd still have the memory of that last flight, held in, as long as I could, like breath underwater, to sustain me in the airless days ahead.
Fate doesn't always wait for us. Everything we do has risks. Changing jobs, changing homes, falling in love. Do we sit quietly inside ourselves as life turns into ashes because we're afraid of that risk? I look up at the remnants of the moon and my answer takes shape in the sky, words, warmed by thought, made fluid, begin to flow and the story continues.