My head is between my knees, and with awareness of this absurdity I look across the aisle wondering if the only person I see in this spiraling mayhem is doing the same. Nope he looks frozen in time;
I maintain crash position according to passenger protocol based on movie memories when a plane is falling out of the sky.
I am grasping for reality yet hear a voice in my head expressing in the calmest yet most adamant tone that I focus on leveling out the plane. These are the actual words. “Level out the plane Elaine”. I am seated close to the wing section in an exist row. Whoever is speaking to me has my familiar voice.
It is January 10, 2008 flying Air Canada flight A319 out of Victoria airport in a calm early morning dark sky, with a slight peek of orangey horizon. This vision is the last thing on my mind before my feet begin to vibrate against the floor of the plane. Seems strange to have turbulence in this calmness?
A shuttering force lifts my feet & we are falling sharply to the left, I am levitating against the pressure of the seat belt straining to keep me in my seat. A bizarre visual with peculiar sounds is upon me all at once.
I had noticed the breakfast trays were coming towards me from the cockpit and I thought I should take a quick run to the bathroom so I don’t get stuck between the carts and my seat. But I thought better of it, I didn’t really need to, I could just let them pass, use the one in the front, relax, have a coffee & read my book. Prior to take off they announced much to my disappointment that the TV screens would not be working for this 5 plus hour flight to Toronto; “Due to mechanical problems”. Why in God’s name do pilots mention any kind of mechanical thing when you’re about to take off, or land or in midair? Why inform us if its a minor thing, can’t they just surprise us with a crash if that’s going to be the outcome?
I feel I am in a slow motion dream state. The two breakfast carts containing food, hot drinks and other substances are now whirling around in the air, without gravity as if in a space ship. I can hear screaming. People are in the air too? I can see one cart chipping the top of the cabin, returning back sideways with a crash spraying remaining scrambled eggs, & coffee everywhere. In midair along with this cart is the stewardess who was nearest to me, she too comes down with a thud bouncing off the back of a seat screaming “I’ve lost my shoes”! She runs barefoot full force to the back of the plane.
I am observing this surreal event wondering why I am calm. I am r e a l l y calm. I have rational thoughts; first, the left engine must have blown, second, we are flying over the Cascade or Rocky Mountain range, about 20 minutes into this flight, falling out of the sky consequently on course to hit something large. (I look at my shoes and realize they are completely inappropriate for crash landing in snowy terrain, what was I thinking?). Thirdly, who will find us, how long will it take & could we have a situation where cannibalism might arise?
As I am having these thoughts, the voice is telling me to pull the plane back up and concentrate only on this and all will be ok, “just level out the plane Elaine”. If you can imagine such a thing as being in a jet plane flying & falling at the same time at an air speed of approximately 500 miles per hour it is no little thing, yet I remain calm & concentrate believing this person talking into my ear.
The plane is swinging back up but we are falling to the other side clearly out of control. The rolls are getting deeper & deeper, it feels like the next one we will be upside down which is about the time I put my head between my legs. I continue to imagine the plane leveling out.
My life is not flashing in front of me, I am quite certain I am not dying & if I am I don’t seem to be worried about it. I wonder if this is what happens when death is on the way? Maybe it’s just my time and I’m fine with it. I hear crying and whimpering, and think maybe we don’t all have the same experience with death? But then I realize I feel safe and they simply can’t hear the reassuring voice I do.
However, to be pragmatic & maybe out of feeling daft that I am so calm, I tell myself I should pray. “No, you never pray why start now, & this isn’t Gods fault, it’s a big piece of metal being flown by humans” (I hear my own voice answer back). “Maybe I should stop drinking so much; I have always drunk too much!” At this very moment and I kid you not; a tiny Bacardi rum bottle appears out of the flying debris and buries itself into my right foot, securely lodging itself as if answering my query. “Nope that’s not it!”
“Just be still and level out the plane Elaine”
I won’t beleaguer this story; obviously I survived as did everyone albeit some with a few broken bones and all with a story to tell for many years. With incredible skill, the pilots pulled us out of this situation making an emergency landing in Calgary with all the firetrucks and crash responders waiting. I realize everything I had under the seat and in front of me is gone. The man across the aisle, unfrozen, hands me my almost empty purse. We are lead into triage to be checked over & due to shock given orange juice, I asked for tequila which is frowned upon. (Yes I did drink that rum) We were given another flight & continued onto Toronto, where we spent a restless night. Waking up to front page news of this incident, we wearily head to our final destination of Dominican Republic embarking on a voyage from hell violently rocked by horrific winds and torrential rain the entire 4 hour flight. I ask the stewardess to DO SOMETHING!! She thinks I am nuts. All calmness has left me.
I contacted my father that Saturday night under the palm trees feeling other worldly and so happy to hear his voice as he was mine, he had seen the news on TV and was deeply worried. We said how much we loved each other.
My brother Geoff called me Sunday night to tell me my father had a massive stroke sometime in the morning and he was rushing to get to the hospital and would be in touch. He had called my Dad earlier in the day and thought he sounded odd, my Dad hung up, Geoff called back and no answer. Geoff lived in Vancouver; my Dad on Vancouver Island. I had left my neighbors number for Geoff in case of an emergency so he called and these wonderful folks drove to my dad’s house, found the door locked, no one answering, called the police who quickly broke into the house to find my dad on the floor unable to move. An ambulance was called as my neighbors talked to my brother who was bolting out the door to get to the ferry.
My Dad had a severe stroke that day and was outside the window of reversal. However he worked hard to regain what little he could. He had been golfing the day before and now found himself completely helpless with no feeling or use to his entire left side, never to walk or live independently again requiring 24/7 care. He lived this way confined to a wheelchair for over 7 years, and for 7 years I brought him home from his care facility to his house on the weekend for a good shot or 2 of scotch, a cigar and homemade food. With the help of an amazing care giver, family and friends we managed to make his life less unbearable. He was such a great sport, never complaining and reminding me constantly he could drive his car if I would just get his license back. On his 90th birthday he told me it would be his best decade ever. He seemed to have no thoughts about aging and if he did, not once in all the years I knew him did he mention he was getting on, or getting old, or life sucked; and he firmly believed he would walk again. George seemed to have the key to living in the moment. He passed away easily in 2015 at 92. I miss him every day.
About 3 years before his passing I woke up to find both my hamstrings tight and painful. I thought I might have strained something, but it became chronic. Shortly after, my back seized up with sciatic across the base of my spine & down both legs. My left foot dropped and I began walking like a dork. X-rays were not great; however it was required by the medical establishment prior to seeing a back specialist I must first to go to the pain clinic which has a one year wait list. By the time I made it there it was clear they could not help me, though they agreed to shoot cortisone directly into my spine, blowing me up like a Puffer fish within days, not alleviating a drop of my pain, and soon my hair started to fall out, all of this making me want to hide in my house forever. It was a dire situation. I always exercised, taught aerobics for 5 years, was a dancer in my younger years, & began practicing Bujitsu at the age of 48. I thought I was Wonder Woman, so how could this be happening to me? To my delight, the dropped foot woke up one day, and funny but not, the next day the other foot dropped. I struggled every day to walk, feeling defeated & invisible as seniors passing me by on the sidewalk. Driving hurts now too I just stayed in bed much of the time. I know it upsets my Dad to see me like this, so I tried to be as good as I can around him.
Fed up after yet another waiting list to see a back surgeon, only to be told I was too young; it’s not that bad he said, come back in 6 months to see if you have miraculously improved, I wanted to throw something at him as I leave in tears. After hobbling with great difficulty to see an incredible neuro surgeon in Vancouver, I exercise my last option & opt out of the system, selling a car to pay for surgery. He relieved my agony in just over an hour operation. I stood up to find no pain, a true life saver. He said I had to relearn to walk and to walk every day even if just a short distance. He said the nerve damage may take a year, or 3 or 5 or longer, it will take time and it is not something anyone can tell you. My legs and feet had more or less stopped listening to my brain due to crushed nerves in the disks of my spine.
They have their own mind my feet, they still fight me when I try to put on shoes. I talk to my toes every day explaining it’s all going to be ok; we just have to work together. All high heels I have collected for many years may go to a shoe museum as I learn to live being short! I may never get all the balance back, don’t walk the way I used to, cannot stand or sit too long, but I am really a pretty lucky person! My hair has bounced back, I have a new knee, waiting for the other one. I may not be Wonder Woman, but partially Bionic.
In writing this, I perhaps wanted to remind myself & my friends that life just comes at you and there is no prevention for some of the randomly bad things that happen. They just happen and blame and rage don’t help. All we can do is function to the best we can, keep going and help each other. We must pay attention to all the good things that happen every day as my father did.
The thing that I learned from the sky falling incident is that I have another person who is stronger than I knew living inside me, a guiding light, or an angel if you will. I have never understood the calmness and strength of mind inside that experience. All I know is that I could hear that unwavering confident voice loud and clear holding my hand assuring me I could handle this life or death experience coming at me. Really if you look at life, we all keep surviving, thats what we do, with strength that consistantly surprises us. I managed my mother’s untimely death from Cancer, helped my father navigate an altered physical state, and handeled my own physical limitations because I simply had to, we have to carry on.
We must to be kind to each other; the ride for everyone is getting more difficult. Many so much worse than we can imagine. We can’t be silent. Our climate is insane, the earth is angry; Fascism is on the rise with arrogant morally challenged politicians re-igniting deeply embedded un resolved irrational fear & hatred, promoting a new fashionable right to express racist dogma. A world full of useless hatred only results in endless pain and suffering in an already overwhelmingly distressed environment.
Love is really all there is. It is all there will be in the worst of times to sustain ourselves when we are faced with life altering moments. And we all will be. We need peace. We need to be prepared to face our own death with grace and knowledge that we lived with meaning & kindness towards others as we would have wanted for ourselves.
And always fasten your seat belt.