Sunday, April 3, 2011

up and away

a month ago, i was asked a question, and i answered just this way. when i look back at that list, i can see that i didn't do such a bad job on the little things, but on the big, not so much.

one of the little things, actually the first thing that came to my mind was "fly a kite." not rocket science, since it was the third day of the windiest month, and for some reason my first thought was of mrs. norfleet's 3rd grade classroom bulletin board, filled with kites, soaring in the wind.

as i moved through the month, more than once, i thought about the question, what if? what if, as i climb into my car to run to the grocery store or work or church, what if this is the day. what if, as i nod off to sleep, i would not wake up? and then, turns out it wasn't the last day, so i moved into another one, thankful that i had another chance to eat tomato sandwiches. to wear blue. to look for shooting stars.

and then, my friend kay, emailed. she was flying down to see her mother, and on her way back to va., she would be more than happy to pick me up, if i wanted to come for a visit.

well. i did want to visit, but when kay says flying, she means flying. in a plane. with four seats. and she's the pilot.

here's the thing. i don't mind flying, when i am up in the air and looking down at all those beautiful clouds and when i get close to home i can recognize the water tower near my house, the marina where my husband keeps his boat, love when all the world becomes a map. from up there, there is not one damn thing i can do about anything, so i read my book. and i am not sitting right next to the pilot. but during those take-offs and landings, well, that's when i know full well i could meet my end. so i pray a lot.

but that's in a big plane... a BIG plane... kay's is a jet, and she travels in it like i travel in my car. and she is good at it, zipping up and down the east coast, transporting dogs for rescue to their new forever homes.

still. as i accepted her kind invitation — because i really wanted to meet her husband and her dogs and see her in her office with the birds fluttering around outside — i thought: could this be the way? could that question about what would i do if i knew march would be my last month.. was it prophetic? would i go out doing something so not like me? something not on my list?

the morning of the flight, i tried to straighten up my closet. i paid some bills. sat a little longer with the dog. paced. and paced some more. on the way to the airport, i called my children. (i would wait to call my parents when i was safe in va.)  i didn't want to be scared. she wasn't scared to ride in the car with me when she came to visit. i wanted to be a new me. a brave one, the one on the charm my friend lee gave me for Christmas.

and so, i walked out on the tarmac with kay, and i climbed in. my husband took pictures. kay and i gave the thumbs up. i need to show you how to open the door, she said, in case something happens, and we need to get out, then added: on the ground.

yes. i would need to know that.

it'll be a little bumpy, she said as we taxied. i could not find a strap to hold onto. 

i prayed... no, don't let this be the day, the way...i really hadn't had a chance to clean out the fridge or my dresser drawers, and i didn't want my friend grace to have to come in and do all that for me...it would just be too embarrassing... and then, we were off, up (and down a few times... yes, it was bumpy.) and as i looked around, i could see the water tower, and in another 15 minutes there was the marina, the tiny speck of a boat down there that we sail from time to time.

i listened as kay talked to the air traffic controllers, a tag team of folks from the small airports between here and there connected by the radio. she turned a lot of nobs, calculated a lot of what might have been algorithms. i was thankful she was the smartest 10th grader i knew all those years ago.

when we were cleared for landing, the controller said: thank you for flying with us today. i hope you've enjoyed flight. "they know me, i fly so much," she said. 

landing was easy. by then i was a pro. we had a great visit. good food. friends. long walks. dogs. even a special visit with my friend mel's 94-year-old grandmother, who just so happens is a client of kay's. (that's a whole nother story.) we even met some cute little lambs. i talked kay into buying meal worms for her bluebirds, and moving their house. (they have since built a nest.)

while i was there, kay's friend left her a message saying there was a rumor on facebook that she had been flying on sunday and had disappeared. she laughed. i wasn't about to.

on monday morning, i woke to thunder at 5:30 a.m. thunder? couldn't be, i thought, then flashes and more thunder. in the dark i calculated where my husband might meet us on the ground, so we would not have to fly. by 7 i was up and dressed, ready to call him. surely we would not fly in this weather.

"oh, it's gonna blow through here by the time we take off," kay said. and thought as she pulled the plane from its hanger it was pouring, she was right. by liftoff, it was clear enough to see the mountains around us. the flight above the clouds was smooth, blissful. but coming back to rdu was more challenging on that monday morning. cloud cover, lots of traffic. we were rerouted a couple of times. i could not see the water tower. kay talked to the controllers, at one point saying: where the hell are we? i found a strap to hold onto. prayed. and then... land-ho! she landed, and it felt like we were skimming. she is that good.

"you were a great passenger," she said as we taxied to the terminal. "the first time i flew with lee (her husband), i was screaming."

what was i to say?

when i met my husband in the terminal, i saw him with new eyes. at home hugged the dog, called my parents (whom i knew had been worrying about me the whole weekend.) let my kids know i was back.

the next week i read about the air traffic controller in dc who fell asleep, causing two jumbo jets to have to land on their own... on their own...how in the world? the whole thing is computerized, but still.

a friend of mine said the other day that she thought i was growing, and she didn't mean growing sideways, but that when she met me over 10 years ago, no way that me would have flown on a tiny plane to visit a friend.

"i never thought you'd do it," my husband said, when i told him about her comment. "do what?"

"fly on that tiny plane." well, when i wrote fly a kite at the first of march i meant a kite. i never once thought: plane. that part was total improv. and i think kay for helping me be a little braver than i was.

today i called my parents, to check in. my dad said: you saw there were two plane crashes this week. (translation: please don't fly again like that, or wait til i won't know about it.) i had seen the news, said prayers for those lost souls, thinking that could have been me. and kay

since april has come, i have taken a new look at my march list. like i said, i've done a few things: fed my birds, said yes and, listened, sung too loudly, studied my orchids, filled a vase with hydrangeas, thanked God, worn blue, napped in the sun, added charms to my bracelet, made rolls, driven down a country road (it was too cold to put the windows down), helped a stranger, smelled puppy breath, stared at the sky, believed it's possible, opened the windows, captured the light, forgiven, taught someone, made much ado... i still have a lot on that list yet to do, but i have done so many other things that i never even thought of. I dusted off a children's goodnight book manuscript i wrote 30 years ago and wrote new verses. planted lettuce. hugged my sister (and my brother), played with with my four-year-old great nephew, took my son to lunch. celebrated birthdays and babies- and brides-to-be. not one day did i fly a kite.

mrs. norfleet's april bulletin board, way back in third grade, was covered with umbrellas. and raindrops. today, though the sun pours into my kitchen, i think of girls in yellow rain boots, umbrellas in hand, stomping at puddles. that's what i'm going to do this month. stomp at the puddles, to see how big a ripple i can make.