No engine noise that I recall, not even a searing, drawn-out whine.
Electronic kiddie tunes filled the living room, where my little grandson’s delight entranced me. Peek-a-boo was the game: Now you see me, now you don’t.
I glanced outside just as the small white plane fell out of the sky.
Nosedived into the woods across the street.
Struck the ground with a crash still resounding in my bones and imagination.
Call 911 . . . now!
A helicopter landed. Emergency vehicles sped into view, red lights flashing.
Could anyone survive such a wreck? My prayers shifted from those I imagined onboard to include those who knew the pilot and passengers. Their lives had just been changed. Forever.
I prayed for the workers. I prayed the wreckage wouldn’t explode.
Scooping up my grandson, I checked Twitter and learned the pilot was dead. He carried no passengers.
Moments before I’d reveled in the baby’s delight. Without warning, horror ripped open the day.
Was a game of Peek-a-boo ever so ironic? So wrenching?
Now I see you, now I don’t.
I’ve kept vigil at deathbeds. I’ve grieved the horrific end of a young soldier I loved.
Now I have witnessed catastrophic death. I saw someone who was soaring perish.
Someone I didn’t know. Someone cherished by family, friends, co-workers. Someone cherished by God.
Holding the baby closer, I trembled to be standing there with him: alive. Safe. We rocked back and forth, me kissing those apple cheeks and the delicate crown of his head, over and over.
Maybe the pilot had aimed for the woods: one last parting gift to strangers, to me and my grandson, to the world he was leaving.
I was written into this story—without my consent.
Craven as this is, I avoid standing up to be counted. I mistrust the media’s power. Fret I’ll commit some awful gaffe. Dread facing public opinion.
Two reporters interviewed me. Was I scared? they wanted to know. Did I worry about fire? Worry the plane would hit the house?
Leading questions probed for answers. They wanted Story.
I wanted stillness, to quiet adrenaline’s aftermath. To block out visual horror.
What had I felt as the bright mechanical bird tore through tree limbs at the far end of the yard? Aghast. Shaken to my core. Shock, not fear engulfed me.
And wrenching compassion for what this tragedy would force upon others.
Who will bear witness?
I didn’t want to be seen either. No makeup, limp hair. The raw and unvarnished me.
Petty, I know. As if, God forgive me, I can only testify to my experience when I look good.
As if I am not a citizen of a wider community, one whose truth telling might help somehow.
The camera zoomed in. I told what I saw. Described the shock of knowing I’d witnessed a life, extinguished.
Later, the news:
I would watch myself objectively.
The woman being interviewed looked tired and sad.
“A moment like this makes you so grateful,” she said, “for how precarious yet precious life is.”
In every line on her face I read empathy. The saggy chin didn’t matter. She spoke with her eyes, from the heart.
“You never know what’s going to happen to change your life,” she said.
Now I see me . . .
Real. Raw. Caring. The words came as I needed them.
I may never meet the pilot’s family or friends. But each time I re-live that plane falling out of the sky, I’ll pray. I’ve shared one small part of a journey that’s only beginning for them.
And I’ve taken a step of my own toward showing up. Speaking up.
The old nemeses of our souls reappear, again and again. “You’re going to blow this. And then you’ll pay,” they whisper.
I feel called to move deeper. Or is it higher? Maybe it’s both.