“Ladies and gentlemen, we need you to fasten your seat belts and return your seats to their upright positions,” the flight attendant said, with obvious strain in her voice. The cabin lights came full on as another flight attendant made her way down the aisle checking everyone’s laps and seat backs. She too had an air of stress about her; she was calm but deliberate.
“The captain will be making an announcement.”
Words you’d rather not hear 20 minutes into transcontinental flight taking you home to Maui for the first time in 21 years for an epic week with some of the best watermen and women on the planet.
Or at any time on any flight, ever, really.
I boarded this plane giddy with excitement and glee because for the first time in years I was flying westward to some place other than Phoenix. I was on the verge of slumber, musing about standing on Baldwin Beach,looking up at the West Maui Mountains after such along hiatus from my Happy Place when an odd knock followed by a shudder got our attention. It was followed by three more. Then we started to descend. We knew something was wrong, but we sat in silence, waiting.
“Folks, you probably felt that,” Captain Jones’ smooth baritone voice was easy. Almost as easy as his cheery pre-flight banter wherein he told us the plane was in good shape. “We have a problem in one of our engines so we’re going to land immediately in Charlotte.”
I’ve never been so thankful to be in such close proximity to the Queen City in my life.
Others around me, not so much. A few started kvetching about the diversion. My seat mate muttered something like “I don’t care where-just set her down fast!” Exactly. He bowed his head.
I started my own prayers….checking in, asking for help for the flight crew, asking for a quick resolution to issue, which ever way it was to go. I felt for my mom, dad, and Grammy, like I have done so much in the last few weeks. I heard one of their voices tell me it was going to okay, which ever way it was to go.
The cabin was silent. Some businessmen were still reading their newspapers, like nothing was wrong. I tried talk to the spry 86 year old lady across the aisle but she was fixated on the inconvenience of the situation. She was wearing ear plugs and talking way too loud.
I felt like I should introduce myself to my seat mate. I wanted to hold his hand. Somebody’s hand. I had a brief but weird wish that I was sitting next to Larry Cain – maybe because of the way he reassured me I would be okay paddling in last week’s 20 mph winds at the Surf to Sound race.
I tuned into my breath, and imagined mom and dad holding not my hands but the whole airplane.
Wendy, the boys, Boone, Fisher, Amy Pond, Rory….Rachel, Bridget, Brenda, Matt, Julia, Katie, John, Barbara, Jeff, Johanna, Alison, Nancy, Diana….I just started silently saying the names of my friends, giving thanks for all the amazing people in my life. Jim, Nancy, JK, Tiffany, Eric, Tony, Tim, Denise, Dara…like Aria’s mantra in Game of Thrones. But not. Keep them all safe.
Okay…so…what if I don’t make it home? Or to REI’s headquarters in June? (Hey stupid airplane engine, don’t you know there’s an Anderson Award winner on this fight??!!) So much I want to do. Come back to Maui with Wendy. See Aaron and Daniel’s next play. Paddle with Suzie and whales. Do the Graveyard course. Maliko. Get a better time on the prone board around Harbor Island. Learn to fly the ama on the OC. Race Chattajack with Wendy, Julia and Katie. Prone Chattajack. See the next Star Wars movie. Okay, maybe not that next to last one.
Whoah! Stop! Look at how well I’ve been cared for up to this point…look at all the things I have been given,how fortunate I have been. Look whatI have already gotten to do. No matter what happens in the next few minutes I have to trust I’m still going to be well-cared for.
Breathe in gratitude.
And keep saying the names.
Angie, Ian, Ben,Joel, Coli, Maia, Dottie, Dana, Jeanna, Heather, Hal, Greg, Kevin, Kay, Ann, Carol,Greer, Chandler, Jeremy, Laura, Sarah, April…Wendy,Wendy,Wendy….
I thought of the water and all the wonderful things I have been able to do on and in it, and how it connects me with so many of the people I was thinking about as we dropped through the clouds.
I felt a sense of peace wash over me like a gentle, warm, salty wave.
“Ladies and gentlemen, just to reassure you, we are on final approach to Charlotte Douglas, we’ll be on the ground in five minutes. Flight attendants, prepare for landing.”
Leaning to look out the window across the aisle, I could see the sun was rising. Fall colors were visible through the thin clouds. The plane banked and started climbing. I wondered if we were dumping fuel.
Longest. Five. Minutes. Ever.
Longer than the last four miles of Chattajack.
We gave a collective start when the landing gear engaged. Was it okay? Did that sound weird?
We must be okay … The flight attendants aren’t telling us to brace for impact.
The long line of runway lights came into view and along with them the flashing red lights of emergency vehicles… fire trucks. Touchdown was a little rough.
Some passengers craned out the windows to see if they could see any going on with the trucks. We taxied to a stop and the cabin filled with the anxious sound of seat belts unlatching.
“Folks, we are not going anywhere yet. Please stay in your seats.”
It took a few moments to get a gate, but when we did, my seat mate turned to me and held up his clenched hand for a fist bump.
Almost as soon as we were off the plane and into the Jetway, disembarking passengers started complaining about missed connections, delays, being in Charlotte, the line for re-ticketing. Ear plug Senior Lady was going on about how this and the rain in Raleigh was a sign she shouldn’t be going to Albuquerque after all and the airline had better pay for a rental car so she could drive back home.
I was perhaps the calmest I’ve ever been waiting in a slow moving line. Just ask Wendy how hard it is for me to be patient in queue.
I don’t know if Ear Plug Lady was right about the rain being a sign not to get on the plane. I might believe far moment that Captain Jones jinxed our flight by saying the place was in good shape. But I am fairly certain my parents are trying to lightly suggest an attitude adjustment whee their former city of residence is concerned.
When the customer service rep re-ticketed me, my only option of getting to Maui was through Phoenix.
Update after Lisa sent this
How nice is this? Jeremy Riggs surprised Lisa when she landed in Maui.
It’s not every day you travel half-way across the world, much less arrive to a friend waiting with flowers. Distressed Mullet Editor Lisa Schell walked off the plane in Maui today after a rough flight from Raleigh NC (which included an emergency landing in Charlotte when an engine failed) to find Jeremy Riggs @paddlewithriggs waiting with lei in hand as she got off the plane. Jeremy is going to be teaching Lisa downwind skills on the famous Maliko Run. #valhalla #maui #maliko #downwinder #paddleboard #friends #family #paddling #Hawaii #lei #surf #fun