Twenty years ago next month, my husband and I were on a coast-to-coast flight when an almost catastrophic equipment failure occurred that landed us in Iowa. We were flying cross-country on the first leg of a frequent flier sponsored trip to Australia, to visit my sister who lives there, when one of the engines failed. As the plane dropped altitude and greasy smoke poured into the cabin, the laconic voice of the captain announced: What you think just happened, did. We just lost one of our engines.” Tears spurted out of my eyes; I gripped my husband’s hands and prayed. After what seemed like an interminable time we bumped down safely onto the runway of the Des Moines airport where we all hollered and cheered, in spite of the fire engines racing toward us. Needless to say, we were a day late getting to our final destination, but the point is, we arrived.
When that memory percolated up though the time and distance of the last two decades, it inspired a kind of “It’s a Wonderful Life” to flicker through my brain. That is to say, I pondered what the impact might have been, (pun intended—you’re allowed to groan) had we not landed safely.
Granted, our daughter’s life, on which we’ve had obvious and far reaching influence is duly, and joyfully, noted--but that aside, I wonder what might now be different, had we not been gifted those twenty years that now roll off our hips and over our expanding waistlines.
To be sure, there were circumstances that occurred before we left on that trip when I know our actions had consequence. With no ulterior motive, Tim and I introduced our roommates, who ended up marrying each other. At their wedding, two of their friends met and later also tied the knot. Both couples have raised a several children. Perhaps one of them will become a rocket scientist, or discover the cure for cancer. Or maybe they’ll just grow up to be happy, contributing adults.
My quiet, helpful husband has his own stories I know. As for me, back in my lifeguard days, an Asian exchange student who couldn’t read English walked off the deep end without knowing how to swim. After I yanked him to safety, I’m not sure which of us shook more. He disappeared from the beach that day and that was that. Where is he today?
In my first post-college job, I answered phones for an employment agency. One day, an applicant met with one of the career consultants, and departed with a job interview scheduled in the next hour. Walking out the door, she realized she had no money, so I loaned her a few bucks for the subway so she'd be on time for her meeting. Later that afternoon, she returned with my cash and a flower, after which I never saw her again. Did she get the job? If she did, what did it mean to her? These are the kinds of things I wonder about from before that fateful flight. But after that plane ride, I can’t point to anything specific. Though as a rule, I try to practice random acts of kindness, nothing comes to mind. If only I had a wingless angel like Clarence, to show me what I’ve done that matters.
Perhaps it’s the time of year, but I find myself contemplating whether I’ve ever altered the course of a life—unknowingly performed an action that would have been missed if way back when, that second engine had given out too. In some, “play it forward” kind of way, we all touch others, I know. But while I’m confident my family and friends would miss me, I’m pretty sure that unlike George Bailey, my absence would not spell the demise of Bedford Falls.
I’m waxing philosophical here, but it's a good thing. Because if anything, this long buried memory has tapped me on the shoulder like Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, to Ebenezer Scrooge, reminding me to be mindful to make the next twenty years (knock wood), count.
How have you impacted others? What do you hope to accomplish in the next 20 years?