When courage triumphed over fear
1 I know what courage looks like. I saw it on a flight I took six years ago and only now can I speak of it without tears filling my eyes at the memory.
2 When our plane left New York that Friday morning we were a talkative high-energy group. The early-morning transcontinental flight hosted mainly professional people going to San Francisco for a day or two of business. As I looked around I saw lots of designer suites CEO-level expensive haircuts designer briefcases and all the trimmings of lofty business travelers. I settled back with my paperback novel for some light reading and the brief flight ahead.
3 Immediately upon take-off long before we had reached our cruising altitude it was clear that something was wrong. The aircraft was bumping vertically up and down and tilting left to right. All the experienced travelers including me looked around with knowing grins. We had experienced minor problems and turbulence on prior flights. If you fly very much you see these things and learn to act relaxed about them.
4 It wasn't long before our relaxed attitudes began to evaporate. Minutes after we were in flight our plane began dipping wildly and one wing plunged downward. The plane climbed higher but that didn't help our plight. The pilot soon provided some grave news regarding the flight.
5 "We are having some difficulties" he said. "At this time it appears we have no nose-wheel steering. Our indicators show that our landing system has failed which necessitates that we abort the flight and return to New York. Because of the problems with the mechanism o if you look out the windows you will see that we are dumping fuel from the airplane. We want to have as little on board as possible in the event of a rough touchdown."
6 In other words we were about to crash. No sight has ever been so sobering as that fuel hundreds of gallons of it streaming past my window out of the plane's tanks. The flight attendants scrambled to get people into position and comforted those who were instantaneously hysterical.
7 As I looked at the faces of my fellow business travelers I was stunned by the changes I saw. Many looked visibly frightened now. Even the most sophisticated looked vulnerable and grim. Their faces actually looked panicked. There wasn't a single exception and I realized that no one faces death without fear; no one is immune to its terror.
8 Then somewhere in my proximity I overheard a still calm voice underlying the panic. It was a woman's voice speaking in an absolutely normal conversational tone. Despite the circumstance there was no angry emotion or tension and this calm voice evoked a calm in me that quieted some of my initial fears. It became imperative that I find her.
9 All around the cabin people cried. Many moaned and screamed. A few of the men maintained their appearance of calm by bracing against their armrests and grinding their teeth but their fear was written all over them.
10 Try as I might I could not have spoken so calmly so sweetly at that moment as the fabulous voice I heard. Finally I saw her.
11 In the midst of all the chaos a mother was talking just talking to her child. The woman in her mid-30's and unremarkable looking in any other way was staring full into the face of her daughter who looked about four years old. The child listened closely sensing that her mother's words were invaluable. The mother's gaze held the child so fixed and intent that the child seemed untouched by the sounds of grief and fear all around her.
12 I strained to hear what this mother was telling her child. I relished the sound of calm confidence amongst the terror. Finally I hovered nearby and by some miracle could hear her soft sure confident voice say in a calming tone over and over again "I love you so much. Do you know for sure that I love you more than anything?"
13 "Yes Mommy" the little girl said.
14 "And remember no matter what happens that I love you always; and that you are a good girl. Sometimes things happen that are not your fault. You are my beloved good girl and my love will always be with you."
15 As her first concern was for her daughter's well-being the mother then put her body over her daughter's strapping the seat belt over both of them to save her daughter from a possible wreckage.
16 Then for no earthly reason our landing gear held and we glided to a gentle stop. It was all over in seconds. Our touchdown was smooth and easy; the tragedy we had feared was not our destiny.
17 The voice I heard that day never hesitated never acknowledged dread and maintained an evenness that seemed emotionally and physically impossible. During that descent not one of the hardened business people could have spoken without a hint of fear in their voice. Only the greatest courage with a foundation of even greater love had brought that mother up and lifted her above the chaos around her.
18 That mom showed me the amazing power of love. And for those few minutes I heard the voice of true courage.