That Moment

by Peter Wallace, © 2007

Everybody has a moment before they die. We’d probably all agree that the fortunate ones aren’t awake or aware when that moment comes. Kenny Rodgers’ song, “The Gambler” includes the stanza:

Every hand’s a winner

and every hand’s a loser

and the best you can hope for

is to die in your sleep…

People often talk about near-death experiences, and having their lives flash before their eyes. In an early stand-up comedy routine, Woody Allen talks about being inadvertently kidnapped by some KKK people who picked him up when he was dressed up as a ghost to go to a costume party. He figured they’d kill him when they found out he was Jewish, and his life flashed before his eyes: “I remembered fishin’ at the fishin’ hole, buying some gingham fabric for Mary Lou down at the general store… and suddenly I realized, it wasn’t my life!”

So, if the best we can hope for is to die in our sleep, the second best would be to have our own life flash before our eyes, and not somebody else’s.

A few weeks ago I had what I thought was “that moment” to quickly contemplate my life. I was on a short flight between Detroit and Madison at 10:30 in the evening. As we were almost at cruising altitude, suddenly the plane began to shake rather violently. It wasn’t like turbulence, but more like an extreme vibration. I looked to see if the engine on our side of the plane was still hooked on.

I was listening to music on my MP3 player at the time, and… I’m not making this up… my first thought was, “Well, what is the last thing I want to listen to before I die?”

My brain was working double speed (still not that fast) trying to make sense of what was going on, and of course, I thought of my family, and of how much more I want to do in life.

And then, the pilot slowed down a little, and the shaking went away… both the plane’s and mine.

When the flight attendant came by with beverages, I asked him what the heck had just happened. He said that the Airbus A320 aircraft – made by our friends, the French – sometimes does that when it hits a little turbulence. It was the third time out of hundreds of flights that he had experienced it.

As I attempted to drink my apple juice – two hands works better when you’re trembling – I cursed the French in general, and the aircraft design engineers in particular. “No more wine for lunch,” was my suggestion for them.

As we exited the plane safely in Madison, I stopped to ask the pilot what he thought about what happened. He admitted that it freaked them out a little bit, too. Apparently this type of plane has a sort of resonance – like a tuning fork – in certain conditions, and changing the speed changed the conditions that caused the vibration.

I suggested to the pilot that buying Boeing planes was a better idea. He laughed.

So, that was my “moment.” Or at least, I thought it was. I think if I had had a bunch of people to whom I owed an apology, I would have called them the next day to do so. Fortunately, the only people I could think of who I should apologize to were the French, and I’m not sure I’m quite ready for that.

Again and again, we have these little reminders that life is a precious and finite gift. I guess those reminders can help us be ready for the real “moment,” if we’re willing to do what needs to be done in the meantime.


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