Flying to Heaven

On July 20, my son, daughter-in-law, and I began our first ever vacation together. Our journey began with a plane trip to Portland. I wrote as we flew:

The engine whine increases as we rumble down the runway. Faster and faster, until the ground falls away and, “We’re flying,” I hear the woman behind me say. And a child’s voice answers, “Are we flying to heaven?”

A child’s wondering and suddenly settles in the fear all flyers feel when the 450 ton missile strains to float on air.

Well, I hope not. The thought springs instantly to my mind.

And just as quickly I chide myself: Why not? Why am I so fixed on Portland and not the streets of gold? Whether I anticipate those biblical depictions literally or not, Heaven must be preferable to Portland, mustn’t it? With no slur intended on that city or Seattle or wherever—any destination on earth is, after all, only a port in the storm. And the storms of life do still rage.

We used to sing, “’Til the storm passes over, ‘til the thunder sounds no more, ‘til the clouds roll forever from the sky, keep me safe, let me stand in the hollow of Thy hand; keep me safe ‘til the storm passes by.”

Mother used to say, “I’m not afraid of where I’m going, but I’m afraid of what I might have to go through to get there.”

And she is going through it: paranoia, pressure sores, hallucinating sights and sounds, not eating, little drinking, weight dropping like a stone. Music no longer soothes her. And still her heart beats and her lungs breathe. Sedated, silenced, she floats, a kind of death in life. She is flying to heaven, I know. But when? I wonder.

For I am not the pilot. I only occupy a passenger’s seat, beside her. Patting her hand in time to the song streaming from her player across the room, a piano piece, “The Wind Beneath My Wings.” I have reached the end of my usefulness. I can no longer do anything to help her except recite words I hope she can hear: “Your mercy, O Lord, extends to the heavens; your faithfulness even to the skies.” So I trace the cross on her forehead and bless her as I leave.

At the other end of the flight, the noise of the landing gear lowering, the drag of the airspeed slowing, and the child wonders again aloud to her mother, “Will we fall down to the ground?”

I think, Someday.

Four days later, my mother died. In the timing of God whom she worshiped and in the way He planned. On August 3, 2016, she will be buried in the ground she loved.

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