“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”
- Thornton Wilder
It was the anniversary of the fall of the Soviet Union when he got the call from Moscow. Some of the Russian oil companies had abandoned their wells, left their rigs with the brakes on, Kelly subs still rotating. Rigs were blowing out everywhere and the oil fields were in utter turmoil. He was needed in Western Siberia and hastily made the necessary arrangements to be on his way.
It would take more than one flight to get him to the center of the action, the last of which was a very small prop plane. The engines were so loud, the attendant was passing out ear plugs. Everyone around him was speaking Russian which he barely understood and with thirty five degree below temperature outside, the plane was cold, but nothing mattered except getting to the job site and taking control of a very bad situation that was getting worse by the minute. With thoughts of the chaotic situation running through his mind, he settled in for a four hour flight on the small noisy plane.
When the plane was just sixty miles from the airport, the cabin began to fill with blue gray smoke. The dense smoke had the smell of an electrical short. Suddenly one engine stopped working completely. Everyone started talking at once and their voices quickly elevated in the ensuing panic. The pilot was trying valiantly to turn the plane around and head back to the airport. He felt panic rising within him. Suddenly the other engine stopped working as well. Then the plane began to descend. In less than a minute, it went into a free fall.
Facing the end of his life, he thought of his children, and how the news of his death in a plane crash would affect their young lives. He thought of his mother. He thought of all the things he had done in his life. And all the things he hadn’t.
“It was one of those surreal moments when you’re just falling….,” he said. Everything moved in slow motion. Everyone on the plane was screaming. As the plane began its descent towards earth, he felt the horror rise up in his soul. People were thrown from one side of the plane to the other. Everything was out of control.
The plane jerked to one side, then to the other. No one could tell what was going on, only that they were going down. In the end, the pilot was able to land the plane with only a broken wing, and no loss of life.
After the landing, the shocked man checked to see that all his limbs were intact. He thought back to when the plane was falling – how he had thoughts of his children, the greatest love of his life. He had thought he was a good dad before the plane crash, now he knew he really could become one. As soon as he was able to get to town and a telephone, he called his mother and thanked her for bringing him into the world. He had been given a second chance. He made his mind up then and there that things would be different from that moment forward.
These days he smiles more, laughs more and gets involved in activities that bring joy and learning to others. He says he feels that he is living on borrowed time and wants to share all he can every single day. He realized after the crash he had been going a hundred miles an hour and had not been taking care of himself, and now he wants to live longer and live better – for himself and for his children. His children, as well as other family relationships, have become his number one priority.
Work is important, but not all important any more. He now spends time with his children, takes them on trips, teaches them about life. He determined after the crash that his most important job was to be a good father, to be the best father he can be, to see his children laugh every day, see them learn, watch them grow. Now he does.
My friend no longer has any fear of death, having met it face to face, but he no longer takes even a single hour for granted.
Priorities become obvious when you are faced with dying. What you thought was important doesn’t seem so all important any more. Those who have stared death in the eye often say they regret not the things they have done, but all the things they haven’t.
If we spend all our days doing things less important, it is not death we should fear, but the regret of how we should have lived, of what we cannot go back and change.
“Success is only another form of failure if we forget what our priorities should be.” - Harry Lloyd
Excerpted from Sidewalk Flowers, Vol. 1
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