Sadly, our Live Oak home is no longer underneath the SFO flight path. For decades I would lie in bed, trying to fall asleep, when I’d hear the approaching muted, far off roar of a jet, presumably from Shanghai or Bangkok, or maybe just from LA, & if I looked up
through our bedroom skylight at just the right moment I’d see the far away flickering lights of that flying boat of humanity for a few precious seconds, leaving me to imagine their thoughts (& dreams, if they’d managed to fall asleep) at that moment too, & where they’d come from & where they thought they were going. Sometimes I tried to stay awake just to see those planes pass by, high up, with their cargo of spoken &, for some, unspeakable stories.
But alas, sky lights pass above our skylight no more. The SFO flight path has been reconfigured eastward & earthward. The earthlings under the new flight path aren’t happy & legislators are demanding answers: Who made this decision? Why do the planes now fly over us? What’s the rationale for such significantly lower altitudes? Why are they so loud? (- see previous question.) Why do we have to shoulder this burden of 21st century civilization? Why not move the flight path over someone else? Jeez FAA, at least please shift it higher up, further away from these vociferous primates.
Why us? Why them?
Which can be similar to the questions we ask at funerals of someone younger than we think they ought to have been when death arrived. We still sense their physical presence & can be overwhelmed by deep feelings of love for the uniquely-wonderful human they were. During a recent funeral though, I wanted to ask my pew-mates: what else runs through your mind during these somber community gatherings? Be honest. Do you look forward to seeing co-workers who are two decades older (as are you too) but with whom you can’t really talk (no, not there) about what’s happened in your respective lives during those wisdom-building years? Do you wonder what people might say about you at a gathering like this, & wish they would instead just say it to you (or not) next week, or sometime when you could actually appreciate (or maybe even learn from) it? (- granted, this thought doesn’t technically apply to me, because the MediCare cohort is probably considered “old enough” for our inevitable fate…). & finally, do you rail at the apathetic gods about why these particular unfalteringly fantastic folks were the ones who died too young of a stroke at 50, cancer at 35, mental illness at 19? What do we mean by too young, anyway?
Why them? Why us?
One longs to hear a coherent story; one tries to conceptualize a rational flight path. Most of us value cause & effect, sequential steps, logical outcomes. Sometimes we understandably become obsessed with the irrationality of unexpectedly tragic, or even just unexpectedly annoying, changes in the path. Sometimes we just happen to be sleeping on the wrong plane.
In my experience, life is pretty much the luck of the draw (n.b., I didn’t say ‘crap shoot’ because this is a family blog & people might misunderstand the c word in this context). I suspect that’s one reason why I love playing Mah Jongg: the ancient Chinese who crafted the game clearly embraced the concept of luck. Occasionally the tiles present a sure winning path, but (more often) there just doesn’t seem to be a fair distribution of jokers, or the timing of their appearance isn’t at all helpful. Another game of luck is not knowing which of our own unique collection of genes will fire (or not) along life’s path, & although we know that environment (in the broadest sense: air, food, family, stress, hugs/day, etc.) interacts with heredity, science is just now beginning to learn more about these interactions.
So, I’m perseveringly adjusting to fewer late night flight dreams, & friends are sadly adjusting to daily life without cherished loved ones. Forgive me for coupling these incomparable losses in this random moment – just trying to make some sense of it all…
Linda, you are writing some pretty amazing stuff!! Thank you for sharing this. You have captured so much of the complexity of trying to figure out life and death. I often look at the night sky and think how completely irrelevant I am in the universe. But as long as I breathe, I can be relevant to friends and family and isn’t that what counts? Love you!!
thanks linda! that’s one of the great characteristics of humans: our ability to think globally & act locally. not that we’re always successful, but as you say, it’s how we can find meaning in our (short) lives.
I also miss the planes coming directly over my home in Scotts Valley. My brother, who is an airline pilot, would let me know whenever he’d be flying overhead. I’d go out in the yard to see him flash the lights at me. “If you see a plane on that path,” he’d say, “it’s a 100% chance that it’s heading for SFO.” After the 9/11 tragedy, it was eerie to hear nothing in the skies except birds. I really missed the regularity of those flying tubes filled with people. And when I flew over other people’s homes, I wondered if they shaded their eyes, looked skyward, and wondered where I was coming from. Sometimes I would look down and see my sister’s home in Newport Beach, or my mother’s home in Syracuse as I was flying in or out of town. “Mom! Can you see me? I’m up here!”
Two of my most recent funerals were only a couple of weeks apart. One was a friend who died from a terminal illness… earlier than expected, but not by surprise. The other was my nephew… also earlier than expected, by about 60 years, and only a little by surprise. He had a heroin addiction that held him in its shark-like jaws so tightly that nothing could rescue him. Not any amount of love in the world, or counseling, or rehab, or jail. You could see him falling down the rabbit hole, and you knew that he was beyond your grasp. He was only 25. A kind, funny nephew who just wasn’t strong enough to fight back. At his funeral, I cried not only for my family, but also for the wife and children waiting somewhere in a future that would never arrive.
i really enjoy your musings in response to a post – thank you donna. i’m especially sorry about your nephew, & other lost souls.
Intriguing insights and analogies. I ponder about fate and chance a lot. Sunday i was helping build a deck and occasionally would be caught for a minute or two holding boards in place and would not be able to swat mosqutoes and gnats landing on me. I thought back to all those pics of african kids who were so used to flies that they didnt bother to swat. I thought how unlucky they were and how undeservably lucky i was , just accidents of birth
thank you keith – yes, birth (or even earlier in the process..) is the first luck of the draw, for any creature. i know you appreciate your own good fortune in life, keith, & also share it with many others!
This is lovely and it was lovely to see you last night. Quite a remarkable event. It was awe inspiring, in fact. I too miss the trail of humanity overhead on their way to San Francisco. I would sit in the back yard with a glass of wine an muse as well. Owen
great to see a note from you, owen! i’m trying to recall if i noticed the planes when we were by the river – probably too distracted by the champagne & company. definitely a stellar evening.
Hi Linda, Great post. It always occurs to me that the good things in life are equally deserving of that “why me/us?” wonderment. Sometimes things good and bad just happen because events and their consequences converge in unexpected, unplanned ways. Also, I love your appreciation of being under the SFO flight path. I’ve always lived near train tracks and have found the sound of train whistles comforting and a source of curiosity about the lives and destinations of those on board. Funny how the same sound can be “music to our ears” or “noise,” depending on who is doing the hearing.
absolutely lisa – luck runs both ways. i feel lucky everyday that i live in a time & circumstances where hip pain can be fixed! i don’t know how i’d survive if i couldn’t walk…no doubt joint pain was a source of suffering for many of our elder ancestors.
Wonder-filled. Optimisti-realistic – which is much better than superfagilistic-ish.
Anchored with the Leakys, in Olduvai Gorge and beyond, with new tools for new tasks with new tribes.
(Is there an initiation rite? My skins too thin and tired for tattoos.)