2017-07-01 / Features



I’m not exactly a stranger to planes. I’ve flown both across country and overseas on big jets and lost hours of potentially productive enterprise in the process. I’m hoping to make them up in riotous living just before my family consigns me to a care home, but my children keep postponing putting their signatures to the document I had drawn up to guarantee it.

I’ve taken to the skies in a minuscule four-seater. Twice. The first time the pilot, my much-valued family physician with a passion for planes, made me question my mental state, if not my physical, for having entrusted my life to him. At least in the sky.

Another time, years after the first roiling experience and, clearly, at a time when age-related memory lapse had set in, I boarded another tiny flying machine for an adventure that ultimately took place in the midst of an Alabama thunderstorm. My favorite author -- the man I had been sent to welcome through the skies to my hometown and to interview once we were back on flat earth -- was my nervous seat mate while lightning flashed and the little bird jigged through the skies with the grace of a demented tarantella dancer.

Goodness only knows how many times I’ve stood, earthbound, but gazing upward, and allowed my eyes to trace a vapor trail across a brilliant blue field dappled with puffs of snowy white. And dreamed.

But I’ve never experienced anything to match a sky filled with Angels.

I had no idea what to expect two years ago when, as a tourist, I made my first visit to the National Naval Aviation Museum. I stood in the blazing sun, privately bemoaning the fact that I had not been offered the option of a view from a vast-windowed and arctic-cool observation room. I was clutching my almost empty water bottle and dabbing as unobtrusively as possible at the trail of perspiration snaking its way my from my hairline to my jawline when my world was shaken.

They came out of nowhere — those sleek, thundering blue and gold arrows pointed straight at the horizon. No, wait, now they were aiming for a pillar of cloud thousands of feet above me, flying in perfect symmetry as though attached by invisible cords. Suddenly they dipped and tipped my world on its head, streaking through the sky with cockpits pointing disorientingly earthward.

Hold on — they disappeared. My heart sped up, responding to inane messages from my brain that insisted a giant hand had most certainly reached down and scooped them all up in some science fiction reality moment, because surely so much blue and gold horsepower could not simply fade from sight in the space of a breath.

I had not made sense of it all before they burst into sight again, dipping, darting, looping, leaping, whisking, whizzing. Flinging aside constraints. Embracing teamwork. Operating on nerve. Pushing the limits of human choreographical expertise on a wide-open, gravity-defying stage.

Forget the training, the practice, the education, the interplay of a dozen physical and mental skills at the controls.

Surely such precision, beauty and symmetry could only exist on a carefully controlled technology-created landscape, where mistakes could be erased and/or corrected with the glide of a mouse and the tap of a finger. My senses struggled to take in all the Angels were exposing me to. Those Angels who were challenging the constraints of fear, of self-protection, of gravity, of earthly limitations and holding a thousand of us in the palms of their magical hands.

I twisted my body into dozens of shapes that day to follow the progress of those amazing flying machines. I shaded my eyes against sun rays bouncing off gleaming birds. I clenched my teeth to stifle screams at each exuberant burst of horsepower assaulting my eardrums. I clamped my arms over my chest to prevent my heart bursting with excitement. I blinked back tears and spread my lips in a face-splitting grin of sheer pride, time and time again. And l adored every thundering moment of the indescribable beauty of the thing.

I would love to have met the pilots. Perhaps I will have the opportunity some day. Maybe it will even be a day when I will be in control of my star-dazed reactions and I will not publicly embarrass myself.

No guarantees, though.

After all, who can say just what might happen when someone is touched by an Angel.

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