I had a recurring dream that I died in a plane crash. I was young in the dream, a woman, with a story in my lap that had been typed on a typewriter. Each time I dreamt this, I woke up just as the plane was spiraling toward the ground, before impact.
A few years after the dream began, I was on vacation with two women from Philadelphia, and our plane took off from Mexico City to Acapulco, into a black, foreboding sky. We flew right into the pupil of darkness, when I remembered the dream, and then suddenly, after it seems the plane was level and we were no longer climbing, the plane dropped thousands of feet.
We were all still in seatbelts, even the flight attendants, and all the luggage started flying out of the overhead compartments, the interior top of the plane was shook loose and wires were hanging down.
In the chaos, my whole body became calm – like I was in the eye of a hurricane. There was screaming and noise, but I was like a sleeping dog in front of a fireplace, telling the woman across the aisle from me, who had grabbed my hand and cut off the circulation in my fingers…. that everything would be alright.
When our plane levelled off and didn’t crash, my friend seated behind me was still screaming, loudly.
I turned around and tried to say words to calm her, but she said Slap me, I’m HYSTERICAL!
So I unbuckled my seat belt, stood up and turned around to face her. Her eyes were locked in fear, her mouth open, and I lifted my arm, and slapped her across her left cheek with my right hand.
She stopped screaming, and I returned to my seat, fastening my belt for the rest of what was to come.
We made it to Acapulco. We all understood the saying “on a wing and a prayer”
We drank a lot of tequila that week.
We danced until the sun came up.
We dove under large waves and savored every lime, every corn tortilla with melted cheese. Our taste buds were on fire.
We left the city and drove through small villages. Every conversation in bad Spanish was memorable and filled with loving kindness.
It was one of my best vacations.
Then we all went back to our lives, got in an airplane again, and flew home in clear skies, as if we could taste the sun, congratulating ourselves on surviving.
I thought my airplane crash dream would end after that trip.
But years passed and I was stil in the front row, a manuscript in my lap,….the pilot coming on to say we were going to crash.
I woke up, just before we hit the ground again.
Then a friend suggested I let myself die in the dream, but I was terrified to die, and didn’t know how to let a dream progress that always stopped in the same place.
Let go of your need to live, he said.
A few nights later the dream began, and the plane was losing altitude fast, and the pilot came on as he always did, and said to prepare for a crash, I tried hard to stay in the dream, to let myself die.
In the seconds before we hit the ground I was flooded with regrets for how I had not lived – I had few friends, nobody would miss me, I had lived a reclusive life, and now it was about to be over. All I had was the final version of my book, and the only copy in my lap, and it was going down with me.
When the plane crashed I felt a terrible burning, as if I was sliced in half, followed by absolute peace.
I was looking at scraps of metal on train tracks, and I was beside someone. My soul was witnessing the crash, no longer attached to my body.
And I said “So this is what it’s like? Why was I so afraid? It’s so easy to die!”
Her soul was smiling. There was light and death everywhere, and it was magnificent.
Then she said, “I have something to tell you before you go back. Don’t be afraid to fly, you won’t die that way in this life. Don’t be afraid to tell your story.”
I woke up.
I reached for a pen in the dark.
And I’m telling you this because I’m still learning to never let go of death. To walk beside her. When we let go of death, it’s easy to forget how to live our best lives.
We get reminders all the time. Cancer, someone we love dies, someone tells us we are going to die – a car crosses the center divider and heads straight for your car.
It’s a split second reminder. Don’t forget to live, the blinding headlights seem to say.
Let your hair love the wind. Let your hands pick up the paint brush, cook the pie. Let your mouth cross the room and kiss someone you love, or everyone you love.
Pick up that pen in the dark and start your story to let the light in.
I suppose I wanted to remind you this morning that death is not a metaphor. She’s real, and she’s asking you to live.