It hadn’t been a bad flight, but it was a bad landing. The kind of landing that makes your stomach drop and your eyes dart nervously out the window, as though if you can see your end coming you can do something about it. The trees on the ground below rippled viciously as though they were being repeatedly back-handed, and I knew the pilot was experiencing a similar slapping as he tried to steer the plane to safety.
The plane descended, screaming and shaking in the wind, and I knew there was no way the wheels would meet the ground safely. I considered my own death dispassionately, was glad to observe I didn’t have any major regrets looming over me. Though I had made mistakes, I had always lived my life the best I could. No one can ask for more than that.
I glanced to my right to see the man next to me gripping the arm rests of his seat with bloodless knuckles. “This is bullshit,” I said, needing to know that someone else felt the same as I.
“Yup,” he agreed tightly without a beat of hesitation, still staring straight in front of him with jaw locked. While I had only my own death to consider, I knew he had much more to lose: his wife and twelve-year-old daughter were sitting in the seats across the aisle from us. The girl hunched in her seat, hands covering her face as she rocked back and forth and her mother rubbed her back.
When we were nearly to the tarmac, when it seemed as though the plane was about to be torn in two, I was suddenly yanked against my seat as the pilot pulled out of the descent, the plane abruptly pointing towards the sky as it flew to safety. “Sorry about that, folks,” the pilot’s voice said over the speakers. “We were caught in an air stream that was just… too much for the plane to handle. We’ll try again.”
The second landing went much smoother but was just as frightening as we all contemplated mortality. It wasn’t until we were parked at the terminal that a sigh of relief went around the plane.
It was in this moment of respite, of second chances at life, that I saw true beauty emerge.
On the other side of the plane, the man’s daughter was wiping at her tear-blanched face. From out of nowhere, the older woman sitting in the seat behind her leaned forward and put a comforting hand on the girl’s shoulder.
“That was scary, wasn’t it?” the woman asked, her tone one of empathy rather than sympathy. When the girl nodded, the woman said in the kindest voice I’ve ever heard, “It was scary and you made it through. Now if you ever have another scary flight, you can look back on this one and know that you’ve been through worse, and you’re going to make it through.”
You’re Going to Make it Through
Though it has been months since that aborted landing, the experience and those woman’s words have stayed with me. “You’ve been through worse, and you’re going to make it through.” There is such wisdom there, wisdom that applies to more than frightening flights.
Too often, we look to our past and remember only the trauma. We let the pain from our past seep into the present and determine who we are today. We run our fingers over our emotional scars and see only the wounds that were once there. What if we instead saw those wounds and scars as symbols of our own endurance, of our own ability to rise above pain and heal?
Picking at wounds causes scarring to deepen. Soothing them helps them to heal.
The woman could have easily taken the lesson, “This was a scary flight, so I should never fly again.” Instead, she took the lesson, “This was a scary flight, and it was ok. I’m ok now, and I’ll be ok again.”
We’ve all had pain in our lives. We’ve all been hurt and disappointed and felt powerless. But we made it through. We’re only broken by experiences if we let ourselves be broken by them, if we refuse to rise above and see the possibility for healing and happiness just over the horizon.
I will always remember the woman on that flight, partly for her wisdom, but mostly for her kindness. She survived a frightening event and, rather than immediately turning on her phone and texting someone she loved, she reached out to a stranger who had also experienced that fear. She shared a moment of real connection.
And that connection, that kindness, spread from there, beyond that woman’s vision or awareness. I wasn’t even involved in the conversation, was only in the vicinity, and I was deeply affected by her words. I get chills every time I think of that woman taking the time to comfort someone who was suffering—so much so that now I’m writing about the experience and you’re now reading it.
Kindness ripples. I doubt that woman will ever know how much she impacted my life. But she did. She also taught me about who I would like to be—simply by being that kind of person.
May we all be healed. May we all be kind.