I opened my eyes and slowly lifted my head. I found myself crouching, my knees fully bent, chest against thighs, feet solidly on the ground.
I stood up with a slow, intentional movement. Walls of buildings rose up on either side of me, their immense height and shadows creating a virtual ceiling far above my head. A long, wide, empty street stretched out behind me and the scene brought forth a memory of standing inside a cavernous cathedral.
I stood at the edge of the city, at the opening of the tunnel of soaring office buildings. In front of me the scene felt strange – peaceful, yet jarring. I don’t remember it in much detail, but the sight of the plain and rolling hills sitting peacefully in the setting sun’s soft light and shadows seemed a strange contrast. The only thing connecting the city and the plain was the odd quietness that stretched from the broad city street out onto the amber grassy landscape.
This didn’t seem right, didn’t seem like the same city, but the enormous quietness that encased the moment told me not to worry.
As I gained my bearings in this moment, the last two hours came back to me. Memory of boarding the plane, the flight and the descent started to emerge in my mind. The strangeness of standing here after having just been on that plane didn’t seem to bother me. I didn’t try to make sense of it, but I did walk through the images that flickered through my head.
I had been in the San Francisco airport, preparing to board a flight to Boston and back to my wife. I was so ready to be heading home. I remember the plane was white with red designs decorating the plane’s belly, wings and tail. As we lifted into the air I settled in for the long flight east. The warm thought of seeing her again softened my face and must have brought a slight smile to my lips.
A few minutes after take-off I looked out the window and noticed we were surprisingly close to the ground. As I wondered to myself about this, the pilot’s voice came over the speaker system: “We’re having a little trouble picking up speed.” I didn’t quite know what that meant and I noticed fellow passengers agitate slightly, starting to become worried. But the next moment the plane shot forward and up, gathering speed and momentum and lifting away from the ground. Pushed back in our seats by the sudden thrust we felt a little relief and the plane’s speed seemed to normalize as we slowly gained altitude.
Out the windows we could see the city rising before us, the tall buildings growing larger as we approached. Something seemed off. Our trajectory pointed us right at the city. And then the plane shuddered and our speed suddenly slowed. The plane wobbled and dropped, then another burst of speed kicked us forward and up. As we realized the pilot and the plane were engaged in a fight for control over our direction and speed a panic arose throughout the cabin. The city’s dark walls continued to grow larger and we started to make out the windows in the sides of skyscrapers and the air conditioning units on the tops of apartment buildings below.
The plane continued forward, jerking between thrusts of speed and engine cut-outs. The sense of panic in the cabin swelled as the sounds of the plane’s struggling engines and rattling baggage mixed with cries of fear and anger from the passengers. And then we entered the city. Like swimming into the belly of a beast our plane dove into the shadows of the skyscrapers, flying in between walls of cement and glass. The revving engines sounded more and more forced as their pitch grew higher. Passengers’ worried yells and crying filled the cabin with chaos, punctuated by loud, horrified shrieks. As the lights in the cabin flickered between bright and dark and oxygen masks began to fall from the ceiling, I fully realized what was happening.
The plane was going down. This wasn’t just turbulence. This problem wasn’t going to be fixed. In a moment of clarity I understood the fate of this plane.
A powerful shiver of intense panic ran through my body and then, just before it could overwhelm me, the shiver broke and dissolved as I thought about her. Would I never see her again? What sense did life make if I didn’t walk out of the terminal into her arms? An image flashed through my head of the moment when she heard that my plane had gone down. I saw the disbelief in her face, followed by a crashing wave of sorrow and pain. Tears barely came out as her heart seemed to stop and she gasped for breath. And then, as the reality of what she heard sank in, tears and painful weeping overtook her. I saw her reality shattering, her heart breaking.
The thought of her love for me finding no response, no caring husband to feel the warmth of her love and respond with a gentle touch, threatened to break my heart in that moment on the plane. As the entire cabin erupted into fearful chaos, I began to slip into a deep sorrow.
Without exactly knowing what I was doing, I then began to think about her. I began to reach my heart out to her, summoning every moment of love that had ever lit my heart and extending it directly to her. Somehow my thoughts and emotions shifted from that heart wrenching sorrow that had begun to overwhelm me to a meditation on the deepest love I ever had felt.
As I focused on her and all my love, my mind shifted between a serene calm and the shaking, chaotic cabin. I became aware of the screaming mothers instinctively wrapping their children close to them in their strong arms, and then slipped back into the darkness behind my eyelids. As I moved deeper into this full feeling of love, I felt my muscles soften and my bones seemed to lighten as though my entire body was dissolving into the experience.
The plane jerked powerfully as the engines cut out completely and didn’t come back on. For a moment we seemed to hover in the air, parallel to the large, gleaming glass windows of the 33rd floors of surrounding office buildings, and then the reality of gravity fully grasped the plane’s body and pulled it into an accelerating descent.
I felt that last jarring spasm of the engines and then receded deeper into my thoughts. Initially I was sending my love out to her, trying to reach her in this moment and tell her one more time, in what might be my last moments, how fully my love for her enwrapped her every bone, muscle, nerve, thought, emotion and desire. I wanted to reach out with my last few breaths to the other soul whose partnership had filled my life with meaning.
As I experienced this love I was sending to her, my thoughts themselves started to slowly loosen. The images and ideas of me with her, of our time together began to dissolve like sugar in hot water. The thoughts melted away and into the feeling of love itself, the warmth of which seeped through my entire body. From the center of my body, from the core of my heart and stomach, I watched the lightness and light of loving expand outward touching every tissue and filling every cell. My entire body coalesced into one, singular sensation of light and warmth as I experienced this moment of pure love. I felt my entire self shining in that moment, like seeing the soft light from the sun filtering through the warm summer water of a swimming pool while I floated at the bottom.
I floated, not immersed in a sensation, but as light, in love.
And then, quiet.
I opened my eyes and slowly lifted my head. I found myself crouching, my knees fully bent, chest against thighs, feet solidly on the ground. I stood up with a slow, intentional movement.
I stood at the edge of the city we had just flown into. But the city’s quiet conveyed a very different place than I had so recently seen. I wondered, without really needing to know the answer, what had happened. Did the plane crash, did it plummet all the way to the city floor and crumple into the concrete? How had I missed that? Was I still alive? Had I somehow moved into a moment of pure being, an instant of complete love in which death became irrelevant? Did I become that light and warmth I had experienced and, in that shining moment, transcend the physical plane careening towards the earth, the mental fear and panic, the wanting and needing? Did I move so deeply into love that my soul expanded to enrapture my entire being? What on earth had happened? I stood there, gazing out upon the soft, warm light of the setting sun and thought of love and light and the abounding silence, and then again of her.