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Gratitude at 20,000 Feet

airbusa340-600on_final_approach

An Airbus 340-600 on final approach

The Meditation of Not Being in a Plummeting Aircraft

I am ashen-faced, my pulse is racing
like a rabbit, as the sleek airliner
in which I’m a passenger is streaking
through the bright blue sky. The flight attendants
serve my choice of beverage, obscenely
alcoholic; all the other passengers,
insouciant, are chatting, reading, dozing;
yet I know I am about to die.
I know, moreover, planes can’t really fly —
the one I’m in will any moment realize the
speciousness of all aerodynamic
principles, and plummet, just like
Wile E. Coyote, to the seething desert
floor. So I implore the God Whom, up to
now, I mostly have ignored, and ask to
be delivered safely to my destination;
and I vow to never take for
granted anything henceforth. I promise
I will always be contented once this
mortal peril I am in no longer
threatens.

I think of my small discontents, the
day-to-day annoyances disturbing my
serenity, and see them as not merely
trivial but absolutely radiant, the
jigsaw-puzzle pieces of my life, which,
now that I’m about to lose it, gleams with
incandescent loveliness. How fine a
thing it was to take a breath and know that
I could take another and another,
practically forever. Apparently you have to be about to
die to see your life as burnished, jeweled,
precious; to be grateful thoroughly for
all things great and small — for people, family and
friends, but also chicken-noodle soup, and
watermelon; bookends, blankets, tennis
shoes, a vintage flick; the symphony, to
which you never go, but will — oh, yes, at
least four times a year if you survive; and
every single dance recital, soccer
game, and Christmas program featuring
your grandchildren you shall attend.

Then the engine noises change; the plane
descends; you send your promises to God on
angel wings, express delivery; you
shiver. Are we meant to fall so fast? Is
this the End? Or will you live to see
tomorrow? Fear gives way to sorrow, that you
didn’t say “I love you” oftener. How
softened are the grievances that made you
bitter and unkind. God willing, you shall
overlook the little things and leave your
pettiness behind, white contrails in an
azure sky, forevermore.

For surely God is gracious; you arrive, and
do so — can it be? Yes — quite on time!

I write this
to remind myself to practice gratitude,
and grant the world more latitude to
fall amiss of my exacting expectations.
There are only to be celebrations,
for entitlement is left in
outer space. God’s grace is manifest.
And with a few forgivable omissions,
once I knelt and kissed the
tarmac, I have (so far) honored all I
pledged at twenty thousand feet, and dwelt
upon my blessings, praising God
unceasingly since he delivered me, with
generosity divinely tendered,
not as toast, nor as a smoking cinder,
yesterday.

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