Friday, July 2, 2010

Flying Toward the Setting Sun

When I left my house in Newton, bound for the funeral of E.'s cousin Art in Portland, Oregon, I expected an emotional journey. I knew Art well and his untimely death had shocked and saddened me. I anticipated that my time in Portland would be intense, but I didn't imagine that the flight itself would be filled with unpredictability and drama.

We boarded our Alaska Airlines flight early and everyone was seated and ready to go five minutes before our scheduled departure time of 4:50 p.m. A flight attendant announced that we'd be pulling away from the gate momentarily. But we didn't. We just sat there.

Twenty minutes passed. Then the captain came on the speaker system to inform passengers that there had been a "minor" security breach at Logan Airport which had resulted in the airport being shut down for about fifteen minutes, during which time all departures had been suspended. He assured us that the airport had reopened and that although the queue of departing flights was now quite long, we would leave shortly.

Another ten minutes passed and a flight attendant announced that our departure would be slightly delayed while we awaited the boarding of two more passengers, who had apparently been held up during the security breach.

When E. and I arrived at the airport, the weather was hot and sunny, but the forecast had mentioned the possibility of severe storms during the late afternoon. Now, looking out the airplane window, I could see black clouds filling up the sky to our west. I wasn't optimistic. Sure enough, the captain soon let us know that because of concern about tornadoes to the west, no westbound flights could leave. Tornadoes! They're rare in Massachusetts, but the weather apparently reflected my apocalyptic mood. I didn't relish the idea of being in a crowded airplane with a funnel cloud approaching. But I had no choice.

The flight attendants invited passengers to get up, stretch, use the lav, turn on cell phones. Accommodating of them, but not encouraging. E. and I chatted with our seatmate, a nice fellow from Portland. The man behind me began cracking jokes and people contacted friends and relatives to let them know the situation.

I called my son, Alex, who was back at the house, dog-sitting for Cosmo. The house was directly in the path of the storm and, sure enough, Alex said it had been wild and windy a few minutes earlier. Soon the wind and rain came directly over us, rocking the plane a bit. But no tornado materialized.

Once the rain let up, we left the gate, then parked near a runway for a while, then returned to another gate. Finally, three hours after our scheduled departure time, we took off for Portland, flying toward the now setting sun. From then on, the flight was uneventful, but the drama wasn't over.

About halfway to Portland, as we still pursued the setting sun, I noticed a gorgeous black cloud with an anvil shape, the characteristic form of a thundercloud. At first, the cloud looked solid black in the fading light, but as we approached it, I could see flashes of lightning within it. We were flying south of the storm, where the skies were clear, but we were exactly parallel to the massive cloud, so I witnessed a spectacular display of lightning.

I know the storm was enormous because it took at least half an hour to fly past it. During that time, I was riveted by the dramatic lightning flashing within the cloud and also toward the ground. The photo I took of the lightning is entirely inadequate to convey the brilliance of the spectacle, but was the best I could manage using my iPhone camera through the airplane window.

What impressed me during our slow progress past the immense storm cloud was its appearance of permanence. It seemed filled with vital energy, as if it would never dissipate. I thought of Art, whose energy and joie de vivre made him such a vital life force. It's hard to believe he's gone.

As we left the storm behind, the sun finally set in the western sky. Like most of us, Art had his stormy moments and his sunny days. But few of us have lived life as fully as he. I, along with a multitude of friends and family, will miss him.


  1. I love the expression, make a plan and watch God laugh. I'm not sure of the alternative, though.

  2. Sometimes I wish that blogsites had that "like" button that Facebook has. I really enjoyed reading this, but found it was far beyond words for me to comment. Let me tell you though I would have been terrified. I have problems flying, although I do it when I must. But I board each plane with visions of impending doom.