Take flight

bahamas

Author’s Note: This is the final chapter of a story previously published. If you would like to read the first part, please visit Sizzle.

It was the jarring memory from eleven years in the past that put Bryan on edge. It involved his sister and her disappearance in a single engine plane while en route to the Bahamas. The wreckage was never located, if there was any in the first place. There was no closure to a tormenting time in Bryan’s life. He was left with unanswered questions and a debilitating apprehension that required any separation of his feet from the earth below him.

“I appreciate the offer, but no thanks,” replied Bryan. He felt guilty turning down the opportunity to extend their relationship beyond the final fifteen minutes of his last cooking class, but this was too far out of his comfort zone. Way too far. Bryan didn’t know, however, that Ted was not only outgoing and personable, he was also quite persuasive.

“C’mon dude, it’d be a blast. Listen, you come with me and I’ll dress up to the nines to attend one of your fancy jazz concerts,” retorted Ted.

Bryan, feeling fidgety even allowing himself to consider the offer, attempted to voice his concern, “It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just …”

Ted sensed the body language being communicated by Bryan. He didn’t allow the silence to hang in the air for too long, “You scared?” he asked. Although it wasn’t part of his normal character, Ted didn’t look at Bryan as he said it so as not to appear too condescending.

“Yes … and no, I don’t know,” replied Bryan, who was confused himself by the response.

“Flip the shrimp, man, they’re gonna burn,” admonished Ted. Bryan had gotten so caught up in his emotions and repressed memories that he lost track of the prawns beginning to char in the skillet for the second time.

Returning to the methodical routine of stirring, listening to the sizzling oscillate in volume as the shrimp were moved from one side of the skillet to the other, Bryan suddenly felt an inviting calmness wash over him. He shared exactly why he rejected Ted’s offer, right down to the very last painful detail. It wasn’t something that Bryan ever felt comfortable doing, spilling his guts, but it felt good, and therapeutic.

Who knows whether it was Ted’s decision to be a sounding board in what he would usually consider an uncomfortable baring of the soul, or if it was a few teaspoons of compassion that he had intuitively added to the recipe of his own soul. Whatever it was, Ted’s compelling argument aimed at Bryan kicked into high gear.

“Hey, it’s safer than driving. There are less planes in the air than there are cars on a highway. And you can be sure as hell that there are plenty of drivers on the road that shouldn’t be behind the wheel of a car. Every pilot has to go through a flight review every two years.”

Sensing that Bryan was getting closer to favorable reception of his argument, but not quite there yet, he continued on, playing to the intellectual mind of his cooking partner, “These planes are awesome gliders. They have a five to one glide ratio. That means if we’re five thousand feet in the air and we lose the engine – highly unlikely mind you – we have a twenty five mile radius to find a place to put her down safely – in a field, on the beach, even on a back road. Hey, I’m that good, you know it,” he said with a devilish grin.

tux-with-bow-tieBryan was still quiet, but Ted could see he was on the cusp of winning over his friend’s allegiance. So, he went for the knockout punch. “Hey, you do this, and I’ll even wear a bow tie to the jazz concert.”

The smile that spread across Bryan’s face sealed the deal. It didn’t mean it was going to be easy, but Bryan could not pass up the opportunity to see Ted in a bow tie. He’d have his camera at the ready to preserve that moment, for sure.

It was a crisp, fall Saturday morning, uncharacteristic for this time of year in Florida. Ted was going through his pre-flight calculations when Bryan came through the hangar door. The look on Bryan’s face was as if he had just come face to face with a banshee preying on his soul to strip him of his very existence. He knew it was unreasonable, but he couldn’t help how he felt.

As Ted completed the walk-around of his aircraft, he explained everything that he was doing to assuage the fear radiating from Bryan’s skin – checking the oil and fuel level, confirming the operation of flaps, ailerons, and elevators, insuring proper inflation in the landing gear tires. Ted was extra vigilant to be sure that he was following every protocol, and to give Bryan time to warm up to what was coming next.

As Ted pushed the window open and yelled, “Clear prop!”, he started the engine and contacted the tower for clearance. He glanced over at Bryan and spoke to him through the headsets on their heads, “Hey, lighten up bro. Remember, this is supposed to be fun.” Bryan feigned a smile.

As they sat perched at the end of a runway, like a bird resting on a twig, they awaited clearance for takeoff. “November four-niner-one foxtrot tango, you are cleared for takeoff, departure to the south approved,” came the announcement from the tower controller.

“Here we go,” said Ted as he advanced the throttle slowly to full power. Everything began to escalate in intensity – the noise, the vibration, the heartbeat. Bryan’s entire body was tensing up in protest, holding on to the door handle, half thinking he could still open it and jump out without too much injury.

And then … his feet were no longer connected to the earth below him. The noise level diminished, the vibration levels receded, and it felt as if he was being carried gently into the heavens above him, ever so closer to his sister. Despite the reduced levels of noise and vibration, Bryan’s heartbeat did not follow suit.

It didn’t remain elevated out of fear. Rather, the feelings tugging at his heart transformed from ones of fear to ones of awe and inspiration. The landscape unfolding before him left Bryan breathless. The Atlantic Ocean looked like a sheet of glass, the rising sun just peeking over the tips of the cumulus clouds sitting on the horizon.

Inexplicably and uncontrollably, one word came from Bryan’s lips through the headset, “Wow.”

Ted peeked over and saw the more relaxed look on his passenger’s face, “Yeah, I think that’s what everyone says the first time they experience this. Let me tell you, it’s rather addictive, in a good way of course.”

sunrise-atlantic-oceanWe’re born alone, we live alone, and we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone. ~ Orson Welles

This was no illusion. Bryan was sure of it. And even if it was some deceptive imagery from an alternate universe, even if none of this was really real, he couldn’t possibly deny the presence of the emotions coursing through his veins. Yep, this was good enough for him. Well, almost good enough. He still couldn’t wait to see Ted in a bow tie. There was no way he was going to let him wriggle out of that one. It was another memory – in what appeared to be an unlikely friendship – that would make his life one worth remembering, alone or not.

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Sunrise

legal-tableSince his recent promotion, Patrick had been burning more than his share of midnight oil at the firm. Case upon case was piling up on the docket. If he was ever going to make partner status in this lifetime, he needed to buck up and deal with the luxury of getting four hours of sleep each night. The first several weeks of his new work regime carried on without incident. Adrenaline and carefully coordinate shots of caffeine provided by the firm’s espresso machine served him well. Like the sludgy oil in your car, however, you can only ignore it for so long before it revolts, the engine seizing up in protest. Patrick’s body did just that while seated at a conference table in an otherwise ordinary status meeting with his associates.

He was focusing on the details of a domestic violence case slated for prosecution the following week while simultaneously disseminating his planned strategy. In the next moment, Patrick opened his eyelids to the unexpected view of a much different environment: a white sanitized hospital room with his wife, Samantha, gazing out the window, an apprehensive look on her face.

“Hey beautiful,” he said to Samantha in a hoarse voice. The oxygen tube in his nose and the drugs dripping through the intravenous feed in his right hand were slowly bringing him back to this earthly world. Samantha quickly approached the bedside taking Patrick’s hand, “Pat, you had me so worried.” An impulsive tear ran down her cheek.

“What happened?” Patrick’s question arose from a confused mental state as he continued to absorb the details of his new surroundings.

“You had a heart attack,” stammered Samantha, the tears beginning to flow a bit more freely as she began to understand the gravity of the situation. “Honey, something has to change,” she pleaded. “This can’t go on. We can’t afford to have something happen to you.” By we, Samantha was referring to herself as well as the two young girls at home with grandma right now, ages four and seven.

Patrick had many redeeming and admirable qualities. The stubbornness that served him so well in his professional life did not do so in his personal and family life. It was this obstinance that left him lying horizontal in a hospital bed instead of sitting crisscross applesauce on the living room floor with his two daughters and their dolls. His body had provided a final warning, waving a white flag in surrender to the overwhelming stimuli of his self-induced professional responsibilities. The urgent message was signed, sealed, and delivered. Tossed into the trash like junk mail in the past, it was finally being read and received by Patrick.

“I know, I know,” said Patrick. “I need to change things. I promise I’ll go see the doctor when I get out of here.” And so it came to be that Patrick visited his doctor the following week for the first time in at least five years. Sitting in the exam room awaiting his family physician, Dr. Kreb, to enter, he couldn’t even remember if he was a she or vice versa. It had been so long, he knew that there would be no recognition between the two of them.

As the doctor knocked and entered the room, he (so it was a male after all) flipped through the pages of Patrick’s medical records while greeting his latest patient. “How’s it going today, what can I do for you?” Patrick was thinking that he should already know the answer to this question. He was admitted to the hospital but three days ago. Patrick’s emergency visit should have shown up in his file. Doesn’t everything end up in these files, he thought as he grasped for some release of internal tension and anxiety, recalling a Seinfeld episode from many years ago?

“Well, I guess the better phrasing is what I can do for myself,” retorted Patrick. As the doctor returned to the front page, he finally understood the reason for his visit. “Yes,” said the doctor. “I see we’ve been pushing our limits a bit too far, eh?” Although Patrick had a wry sense of humor, he didn’t appreciate any levity in this particular situation, at least not the kind doled out by his doctor.

wake-up-alarm-clock“I suppose you could say this is my wake-up call. I’ve hit the snooze button a few too many times and I know now that it’s time to finally get out of bed.” Patrick spoke in a self-deprecating tone as he began to sense how his cumulative actions over the previous year had led him to this present moment. He wished that he could simply take a pill and make this ill-fated situation disappear. Deep down, however, he knew this was impossible and was dreading the recommendations that would be forthcoming from the medical professional. It would be more invasive than the surgery that he didn’t need.

The doctor spoke in a very matter-of-fact tone, reading from the notes he had made, as if he was rattling off a list of items to pick up at the grocery store on the way home. “First, you need to cut back on the amount of stress you are creating in your life. That means no more eighty hour work weeks. You need to cut it back to forty hours like the rest of the human population.” Looking over the rims of his bifocals to be sure his patient was paying attention; he continued “Second, you need to find a way to manage the excessive amounts of stress that you have already invited into your life. Find an activity or a hobby that gives you some time for renewal and rejuvenation: set aside some time to listen to music you enjoy, meditate, or take a daily walk on the beach. Your choice, just be sure to find something.”

The first piece of his treatment was going to be difficult to embrace. His work had become an addiction for Patrick. Cutting back to half the hours would be akin to going cold turkey. It was not going to be pretty. In fact, he surmised that it would introduce even more stress in the short term. Despite his apprehension, however, he knew it was necessary. Besides, if he didn’t follow through with the doctor’s advice, he was either headed for another heart attack or a divorce, maybe both.

As difficult as the work schedule aspect of his treatment would be, the doctor had stumbled upon a perfect activity for Patrick to help alleviate some of his existing stress. This part would be much easier. He had moved from the Midwest after law school to be closer to the beach. And yet, here he was less than ten minutes from the Atlantic Ocean and he could count on his one hand the number of times he had been there in the past ten years.

atlantic-ocean-beachOne of those times, perhaps the most memorable of his life, occurred on his first date with Samantha. With the pale moonlight casting a glow over the endless sea, the two of them stood with their foreheads touching, gazing into each other’s eyes as the lapping waves tickled their toes, sinking their feet into the sand as if setting strong roots for their future together. Maybe that’s why he didn’t return as often. Maybe he never wanted to risk tainting the perfection of that fond memory. Patrick would be strolling on that same beach more often now because he relished the reminiscence of that first date. He planned to relieve stress by taking a daily walk on the beach each morning before commuting into the office.

He had walked on this beach and sat on these dunes dozens of times in the past several months. The most spectacular part of this new practice was watching the sun begin to peek above the horizon as night transitioned to dawn. Each sunrise was different. Every one portrayed a different mood and told a different story. Some narratives were filled with gray clouds and a dull light that cast a somber ambiance. Other renditions were characterized by brilliant hues of vibrant pink, blue, and orange that was manifested by the smile of encouragement and hope on Patrick’s face.

turtle trekThis Friday morning’s sunrise was neither melancholy nor effervescent. And yet, it was like none he had ever seen. As Patrick sat on the dunes, forearms resting on his knees, he eagerly awaited the story line beginning to unfold as the diluting darkness of night gave way to the refreshing light of day. From the corner of his eye, in his peripheral vision, Patrick noticed what looked like a shadow, a vague form of something meandering down the sand towards the water’s edge. As the rising sun began to cast more light on the scene, he spotted the trail of sea turtles trekking vigorously towards the safety of the deep ocean waters. This was only the first of many obstacles that they would need to surmount in their young lives, but it was the most pressing at the moment. They were devoting every ounce of energy and focus into the here and now, and Patrick was overfilled with gratitude, being able to witness this magical transformation, this beginning of a new life.

It led Patrick naturally to contemplate the direction of his own focus. Each and every morning, he would sit here on this beach and focus on what was out over the horizon, awaiting a grand spectacle to make its presence known from a distance. He wondered how many other things, like these fledgling turtles, that he missed right before his eyes.

His daily routine should have carried Patrick south towards his office and the final eight hours of his new forty hour work week. It was those eight hours, after all, that would help propel Patrick closer to becoming a partner, that vision looming just out over the horizon. Instead, he turned north, headed home to his own fledgling turtles, all the while planning a perfectly splendid party involving imaginary tea, pretend scones, and the three most important people in his life.

Simplicity

to-be-or-not-to-beTo be, or not to be. That is the question. Or is it? In the chaotic and restless world of today, we are encouraged to do, not to be. At a time of the year characterized by resolutions and goals, both new and revisited, it is the perfect time to take a moment for reflection. Reflection on what is ultimately important in our lives.

I perpetually fret over the same responsibilities. The things that appear big, but in reality are quite small. The sink full of dirty dishes. The hamper overflowing with dirty (or clean) laundry. The trash cans that need to be emptied. The jungle forming in the back yard. The three cats meowing for their daily ration of flaked tuna dinner. Okay, maybe that last one really is important 😉

We exert so much mental and physical energy attempting to keep up with the demands of daily life that we miss out on the simple things, the elements of our everyday lives that ultimately provide a sense of inner peace, a smile on our face, and a bounce in our step.

The scent of freshly baked bread in the grocery store. Listening to the caressing nature of spoken Hawaiian words. Pandora providing the perfect Disney tune at exactly the right time. The silky feel of the next page turned in a book.

sunriseThese often overlooked pleasures came to pass due to an extraordinary observation on an otherwise ordinary morning commute. As I turned south on to US-1, driving alongside the Indian River, my eyes caught sight of the good morning wish provided by Mother Nature. In that moment, every petty desire, every task on my mind, every anxious worry, was replaced by a single thought. I must find a place to stop. To gaze at this wondrous spectacle, for no particular reason other than to appreciate its beauty.

As I pulled into the parking lot of a local restaurant and stepped out of my car, the sunrise simply took my breath away. The fact that it was 37 degrees outside may have played a small factor in that feeling. But, I never would have known it in the moment. I was simply consumed by the natural creation in front of me. The light of the rising sun almost lifting the clouds, providing a sense of hope and comfort for the coming day. I suspect that commuters zipping by in their vehicles would have seen one of the most genuine smiles ever present on my face. If they had also chosen to stop and appreciate the gift of this simple pleasure.

if-u-want-to-be-happyWith the flurry of activity and rushing about us, adopting an attitude of simplicity can often be the most complex thing we do. Once it catches hold of you, however, you will never want to let go. Free yourself from the frivolous white noise that distracts you from the simple beauty around you. Stop chasing everything. Focus less on what you want to do and more on who you want to be. Just be.