50: Mayday

50: Mayday

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles Happen


The soul can split the sky in two and let the face of God shine through.

~Edna St. Vincent Millay

“Stop it. Stop spoiling my fun.” Mom’s words of warning invaded my thoughts. I imagined her wagging finger pointed at me, reminding me how dangerous flying in small private planes could be.

Should I listen to her and forego the invitation? Nah. Mom always viewed life through a critical lens. So, I pushed her voice out of my head and determined to have an enjoyable afternoon. After all, the day was cloudless, bright and filled with promise for the first time since I had moved into my new apartment 250 miles north of where I attended college. My date—a handsome amateur pilot—wanted to log some flight time and invited me along.

I was twenty-three years old, freshly graduated with a Masters in Know-It-All, newly employed, and recently unattached from a twelve-month relationship that went sour. Like someone consuming alcohol on an empty stomach, the mixed drink of companionship and adventure dulled the loneliness and left me intoxicated with hope.

Grabbing my jacket, purse and the lunch goodies I prepared, I took one last admiring look in the mirror and headed out the door.

The young man completed his safety check, logged our flight plan, and welcomed me into the two-seater. Its single propeller roared to life, and we accelerated down the runway. Squeezing my eyes shut, I let the power of the thrust pin me to the seat. When I opened them, cars and buildings shrank into a toy town, and people became small dots on the terrain below. I left my troubles behind.

This pilot was trained only to fly visually. Instead of navigating with instruments, he charted our course by visible landmarks and markers on towers. He pushed a map into my hand, pronounced me co-pilot/navigator, and showed me how to match landmarks below with those on the map. Because of his newness to the area, coupled with my inexperience at navigating from aloft, we occasionally strayed off course. No worries. Putting our heads together we eventually found our path again and safely landed at our destination an hour later.

Sprawled on the blanket, we nibbled at the picnic lunch while trading bits and pieces of our lives. When the sun sank toward the horizon, we prepared to leave while we could still see land markers before nightfall.

With one leg of the trip behind me, I confidently assumed my navigator seat. Map in hand, I located every landmark. Not one course correction was necessary. How silly Mom’s fears were.

The weather shifted fifteen minutes outside of home base. Clouds moved in, visually blocking landmarks. Thick haze hid the downtown skyline that rose only moments before in the distance. No amount of straining to see penetrated it. We searched below for any hint of our location, while the clouds thickened.

Not knowing how we might land, my breathing turned into short gasps of panic. My companion’s brow furrowed, and his lips pressed into a thin line, telegraphing his growing concern too. “Don’t worry. We’ll be fine,” he said.

I didn’t buy it. Mom’s words haunted me. Between blinding clouds and all those course corrections that ate up precious fuel on the way out of town, I worried today I would die.

The gas gauge moved toward Empty.

My friend admitted the obvious. “We’re well past our airport.” With the city nowhere in view and night rapidly overtaking the sky, he offered a terse suggestion. “Let’s look for a landing strip.”

I managed a strangled “okay,” and we both fell into silence. Only the propeller’s steady hum filled the cockpit. Seconds passed like hours.

Please, please, God, let me live through this. Please let us find a place to land. I prayed. I pleaded. I bargained.

As the gas gauge rested on E, I thought God might not be listening.

Five more minutes passed when, as suddenly as they formed, the clouds parted long enough for a hangar and airstrip to appear. It looked like a tiny island in the ocean, sitting in the middle of a large, deserted field.

Saved. Thank you, God.

My pilot circled for the approach. Salvation was moments away.

The engine sputtered.

Please, God! I screamed silently as the young man pumped the gas knob to ensure every ounce of reserve fuel reached the engine.

He began the descent.

The propeller hesitated again.

Then, stopped. Completely still.

Silence filled the cockpit. My friend grabbed my hand. “Don’t panic,” he said. “If I keep the nose up, the plane will glide.”

“You gotta be kidding.”

“It will glide,” he repeated. “Trust me.”

I closed my eyes and prayed while we floated toward the farmland bordering the narrow strip of cement below.

“We’re dropping too fast,” the pilot said. My eyes flew open. “I have to put the plane down in the field. The wheels within those plowed furrows. Or we’ll flip. Hold on tight.”

Please God, please God, hear me. God, where are You?

Below us, pilots poured out of the nearby hangar and watched our free fall.

As I held my breath, the wheels touched the ground. Exactly within two plowed furrows.

My pilot’s grip tightened on the steering wheel while the plane rolled within the trenches and halted… 100 feet short of the runway.

Our audience of pilots broke into applause. Once we jumped from the plane, they slapped my companion on the back, congratulating him for doing the almost impossible—landing a plane in a furrowed field without flipping it, and without a working engine.

Only that evening when safe at home with both feet on the ground did I realize God had answered my mayday call. Not just my physical one in the plane but also my spiritual mayday. I was back on course.

~Gloria Ashby

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