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"