Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Fire

It was a vivid dream, as dreams go. Holed up there, in the Hyatt–Dulles the night before a mission―make no mistake about it, airline flights are missions―it came on me near morning. At least I think it was near morning. How is it that the moment of impact is when the alarm sounds? 
I was flying the right seat. I haven’t done that in 14 years. Don’t know why I was there. In my military days aircraft commanders often flew the right seat. Maybe that’s how it came about. But in the dream I was the captain―a captain in the right seat.

It was night. A call from the flight attendants came. A fire raged back there. Then putrid smoke broke out where we were, in the cockpit. It started on the floor. The man in the left seat was flying. We got out masks and put our goggles on. Then I saw a brilliant orange flare erupt in the floor near his feet. He screamed and let go the controls. I took over. The orange brilliance climbed up his legs and engulfed his upper body. He screamed more. I turned the jet. I don’t know to what heading. Toward an airport I suppose.

Then I looked over at him. He wasn’t human any more. He was a black sculpture, his limbs frozen in mid-air, as if enroute to his face to cover it from the agony and horror.

The orange glow erupted at my feet. I felt the heat. I looked at the attitude indicator. I was in a right bank. I felt a stabbing, burning pain. I pulled harder. I knew I was in a graveyard spiral. I knew we were losing altitude in the blackness. I wanted to roll out and stop the deadly descent, but the fire hurt. Hurt bad. I couldn’t help myself. I pulled harder.

After I took my eyes off the thing in the left seat that had only seconds before been human, I didn’t think of him. I didn’t think of the passengers. I just thought about the impact and whether it would hurt.

Then the alarm rang and I got up and flew my mission.

If you think such a dream is a harbinger of what’s to come, then we’d all be dead. I never thought that, and don’t. I think maybe our fatalistic dreams―those of us that occasionally have them―are subtle reminders that each day is a precious gift. God never promised us tomorrow.

I know I don’t have to be Charles Lindbergh, Sir Edmund Hillary, Winston Churchill, or Billy Graham to be a real person, a person experiencing the abundance of life. A kiss, a hug, a taste of wine, a dog fetching a stick I threw, or a blue moment, is all I need to say that my life here was a success and well worth it.

None-the-less, thank God for the wake-up call.

From my mother's sleep I fell into the State
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flack and nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.
--Randall Jarrell, 1945
"Death of the Ball turret Gunner"


amulbunny said...

I first read The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner in a high school English class in the late 60's. It has always stayed with me. I taught it to my English classes when I was a teacher. Thanks for sharing it again.

I hate dreams where I am falling. Just in whiteness and never knowing where I am going.

Safe journey.

Lakotahope said...

I don't envy these dreams at all, but my dream is in a car spinning out of control heading for trees...
But, in my dreams I become aware that it is only a dream and continue through to the conclusion--no harm done. Your dream should have the alarm ringing just a bit before the "graveyard spiral"
Thanks for your posts

limonlima said...

Thanks for the reality check.

Mark Richards said...

Thought of this immediately upon reading your poignant reminder. Perhaps it fits:

Individuals make their own purpose in life. Each one of us, to a greater or lesser extent, lives by our purposes. It may be to write a great book, a great symphony, it may be to win a football match, it may be to bring up your children in health and happiness. There are all kinds of purposes that individuals can make, every one of us can make. And we’d better make our own purposes, because this is the only life we’re going to get. And so the belief that this is the only life we’re going to get sharpens our view of the world, it makes us value life more, it makes us take life seriously, but it also makes us enjoy life to the full, because this is the only life we’re going to get. And to lead this life in a less than full fashion, because you think you’re going to get another one, is a terrible, terrible waste of the gigantic privilege it is to have a life at all, because we each of us are enormously privileged. If you calculate the odds against each one of us coming into existence…our parents had to meet, not only did they have to meet, they had to have sexual intercourse at a particular time, a particular sperm had to find a particular egg, the same thing had to happen to our grandparents, our great-grandparents, all the way back through the pilgrimage to the origin of life. Not one of us here has any right to expect to exist; we do exist by a fantastic piece of good chance. Don’t waste it, it’s the only life you’re going to get.

- Richard Dawkins

Craig said...

That's a scary and vivid dream, Alan! I can't remember having a dream like that about flying, but I'll be ready to 'complete the mission' as well if I do.

You're right, life is meant to be lived, and to appreciate the abundance of it. I submit that the purpose and meaning of life should be considered by one as well.