What animal would you like to be? If you could succeed at any sport, which would you choose? And, the age-old question: If you had $1 million, what would you spend it on? At our lake home, I keep a collection of small books and cards that hold questions like these.
When a few of us are sitting around late at night, I’ll pull out the questions, not so much to hear what animal my friends might like to be, but the questions always seem to spur other conversations, such as reminiscing about the first pet we loved and lost.
This past July, one question stopped everyone in their tracks. “To whom do you wish you had said, ‘I love you,’ and never did?” Oh, goodness, this was way beyond the usual softball questions we normally bat around. There was a long silence, then one person, through tears, mentioned a grandma who’d passed away. Another talked about his biological father who he never had much of a relationship with until his father was on his deathbed. And then it was my turn.
With most questions I’m asked, I rarely have a one-word answer. My replies usually come in a story, and here’s mine:
Years ago, I boarded a small United Airlines jet to Denver, Colo. It had flown from there and was quickly making the turn-around flight. Since my husband does some flying, I knew the plane hadn’t been on the tarmac long enough for a fuel fill. (That’s fine for short flights, since planes fly more efficiently when they aren’t weighed down with gas.)
The plane was small, with a single row of seats along each side. It held perhaps 20 souls, plus two pilots and a flight attendant. The plane took off, I paged through a magazine, glanced at the man across the aisle, and listened to a baby cry somewhere behind me. It was another routine flight, until it wasn’t. The pilot announced there was a thunderstorm over the Denver airport and we would be in a holding pattern while it passed over.
No one wants to fly near a thunderstorm, so I was relieved when the pilot explained the bumps and the delay. Around the edge of the thunderstorm we went. The dark was punctuated by flashes of lightning. It was too bumpy to read, so I looked out the window at nothing but night. There were no lights below us. We circled and circled. The air got bumpier and bumpier. I gripped the armrest, which helped steady my nerves – until it got so bumpy that even the armrest was jerking up and down with each lurch of the plane.
By now, we had been in the sky almost two hours longer than the flight was supposed to take. I knew this plane was going to run out of gas if we didn’t land soon. Then, without warning, the plane banked into a steep, steep spiral. Even the baby quit crying.
I closed my eyes and started praying. I began with everyone who was important to me. I thanked God for my husband and our 20-some years of marriage. I told the Lord I was grateful for my two wonderful daughters. I mentioned I had really hoped to live long enough to see them get married and meet my grandchildren, but if that wasn’t in his plan, that was OK. I moved on to my mom and my two sisters, again thanking God for putting them in my life, and for letting us have relationships without jealousy or grudges, but with love and lots of laughter.
I paused for a moment and peeked between my tightly shut eyes. Yes, this plane was still circling d-o-w-n. I took a deep breath. If I was going to die, I would die praying. I thanked God for my many dear friends. I named each, picturing each of them in my mind. And then, since I figured I didn’t have much longer, I simply thanked God that every single one of those people for whom I had prayed knew I loved them. If I was going to die, it was with no regrets for anything unsaid.
And then I opened my eyes enough to see a sprinkling of lights below. It certainly wasn’t Denver, but the clouds were gone and there was somewhere below us to land. Just as we were about to touch down, the pilot announced, “Sorry about that folks. We were running low on fuel and had to divert to Colorado Springs.” The wheels touched down and there was a collective sigh as I exchanged a worried-now-wowed look with the man across the aisle. The pilot came out of the cockpit, leaned across the first seat and said, “We’re going to fill this baby up and then get you back to Denver.”
I called out, “Does anyone want to rent a car?”
The pilot laughed (but I wasn’t completely joking) and assured us the storm had passed and it would be a smooth ride back. When we finally got to Denver, four hours later than our scheduled arrival time, I told my cousin, who’d been waiting for me, “I’m not sure if I should kiss you or the ground I’m standing on.”
Circling back to answer the question where this story started: There is no one in my life to whom I need to say “I love you,” because they already know. And, now I’ll ask you. Who in your life needs to hear those words from you?
Roxanne (Roxy) Henke has her feet firmly on the ground (usually under her desk in front of her computer) in her home in rural North Dakota. She is the author of eight novels. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.