Back when I was on One Life to Live, I flew back and forth from NY to LA every week. (I know, it was a little insane.) I flew so often that I didn’t even tell my family and friends I was traveling. But one time, when I was coming into New York on the red eye, I learned a valuable lesson about complacency.
It started off fine. I was psyched because I had three seats, so I was all spread out, ready to cozy up and actually get some sleep. About three hours in, though, the plane began to shake. I jerked awake, and out the window I could see these flashing lights. Sirens blared and then stopped, but the silence was ominous. Everybody was looking around, wide-eyed, gripping their armrests or their rosaries or their lovers’ hands.
“Oh my god, the plane’s on fire,” cried someone from across the aisle. Some people started crying; most just looked around terrified, helpless, while the plane jolted along, one of its wings on fire.
After an eternity, a flight attendant made her way down the aisle, acting surprisingly casual. “We had an engine failure,” she said, “but we’ve rerouted it, and should be okay from here on out.”
I didn’t sleep the rest of the flight. Instead, I looked out the window, and every city that passed below, I thought Why don’t we land there? What about there? That looks safe…all those safe people on the ground… I had a lot of time to think, and some things that went through my head were, Is this really my time to go? I had a lot of psychic friends, and I wondered (as I now remember with a laugh), How come nobody told me this is how it ends?
When we finally landed in NYC, the pilot said “I apologize…in my thirty years of flying, I’ve never had that happen. For those of you who saw the little bit of fire, I’m very sorry. We have multiple engines, so we were able to fly the rest of the way without the one that failed.”
When we deplaned, I wanted to collapse and kiss the ground. Instead, I went straight to the nearest pay phone and called my mom. She hadn’t even known I was flying that night, so you can imagine her surprise when I started babbling about how I loved her and missed her.
It was one of those extreme moments that makes you think, why do we wait for something alarming to happen, before we really appreciate life?
That night, I felt absolutely grateful for everything in my life. My friends, my family, my job – I just wanted to call everyone and tell them I love them. Everything, big and small, felt like such a gift.
And I did go around telling people that, for a while. But then life took over again, and sadly, I fell away from that epic appreciation of everything. So sometimes I think of that story, and I remember the intensity of that feeling. Sometimes the intensity comes back a little; other times I have to pull it in, step into that gratitude.
What if we went every day, seeing everything and everyone as a gift?
Who would you call just to say I love you?
What would you do?
Go out and shine.
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