There are more than enough experts on the street who give an explanation of what life is, and there are more than enough words used interchangeably to suggest that same concept. Is life a miracle, a gift, a dream, a realization, a journey, a sigh, a right, a duty, a poem written around us, a lightened candle that any wind can extinguish? Is it knowledge, suffering, love, tolerance, existence, unhappiness, joy, development, growth? All of these and many more terms could be used to convey the same idea of life, but just as everything else in this world, the definition of life is relative, and it depends greatly on the meaning people give to it as well as their point of view and experience.
This time, I have decided to share one of the most shocking experiences of my entire life; one that marked and changed my vision of it forever, making me realize that nobody has the right not to create his or her own story because what life gives, it also takes away, and just as life was given to us it may be taken away. My intentions are not just to inform, but also to call the reader’s attention to the topic of life. After all the experiences I have gone through, I have learned not to take life for granted, and despite the several definitions of life, to me, it is everything. I was born to love and be loved, and that is what I consider my mission in this world.
It was the most unforgettable day of my life. My friends and I were just getting on a plane to go back to the city after a wonderful week in Margarita, a Venezuelan island located just off the country’s northeast coast. It was the summer of 2000; we were a group of about fourteen people just returning from our marvelous HS graduation trip. My friends and I were excited about the great time that we had spent together at the beach although we were also tired and just wishing to get home soon. The airplane was full of people, and everybody was taking their seats; we were located in the back of the plane and sat in pairs. The plane had two columns of double seats; it was a small aircraft. One of my best friends, Keily, took the window seat and I sat next to her; we were closer to the front of the plane since the rest of our friends were sitting behind the two of us.
After a few minutes we were all set waiting for the aircraft to take off. Our forty-five minute trip began a bit afterwards, but no one could imagine that something was about to go wrong. Twenty-five minutes had passed since the airplane left the airport; I remember my friends and I were not talking much; I guess we were just thinking to ourselves. Suddenly things started to change for the worst; we began to feel a little turbulence, but nobody knew what was going on. As the plane shook harder people got nervous; we were all scared looking at each other not knowing what could be happening. A few more seconds went by and the plane started to lose height; moments later the lights went out, and then we unmistakably knew that this was an unfortunate event. Most of the people were screaming and some others crying. The flight attendants tried to make passengers calm down right away, but their attempts were obviously helpless. Not without reason, my best friend went out of control; she tried to remove her seat belt and she was calling out her father’s name. Just at that moment I remembered her words before getting on the plane; she said she had a bad feeling, as if something terrible was going to happen; at that moment her words came to mind again.
I cannot put into words the feelings I had then; and as much as I’ve heard of how people who have been on the brink of death see their lives pass through their eyes like a movie, there’s nothing like experiencing it and really feeling as if for one moment one’s life is actually pending on a fine thread. Even though I was literary scared to death, I reacted to make my next-seat friend calm down, and I mysteriously managed to put my feelings aside in order to provide some support. I embraced her and asked her to trust me; I told her that everything was going to be okay. Despite all logical expectations, my efforts to make Keily feel better were satisfactory and helped soothing her nerves; however, she never stopped repeating the “I-don’t-want-to-die” words, which after almost 7 years still echo in my head as though I had heard them just today. I did not know how else to help although there was really nothing I could do or say… The situation escaped absolutely everyone’s but the pilot’s hands.
A lot of things came to mind at once although I can barely describe exact thoughts or feelings with words. All I kept thinking was that the plane was going to crash, and all the passengers including us would be dead. I remained as calmed as I could under the situation, and I tried to act as though nothing had been occurring. The only thing I knew for sure was that making myself nervous was not going to help make things better. I did not even had a chance to look back to see the rest of my friends; it was like if at that moment Keily was all that mattered. A weird sense of protection took over my head, and I could only concentrate on making her feel safe even though I knew there was nothing I could do and even though I was just as scared and afraid of dying as everyone else.
It was a matter of minutes or maybe seconds, and everything went back to normal. As few as those seconds or minutes might have been, I can only tell that moment felt like an eternity; time had slowed down on everyone. The airplane stabilized again, and there was nothing to regret. We were then able to look through the window and see another plane flying very close to ours. We most definitely owe it to that one pilot who had in fact saved our lives. Moments later the flight attendants let us know that we could have crashed (as though we hadn’t noticed) and that the unexpected descent that we had experienced was part of a difficult maneuver that the pilot did to keep the plane in control and avoid colliding with the aircraft we had just seen.
About fifteen minutes were left to arrive; we were still shocked, and nobody said a single word; it was as though that episode consumed everything within us. We finally landed at the city airport and this time Keily did not want to get off the plane. She was still scared to death, she didn’t want to move or walk or think or do anything. She just wanted to feel safe. After a few attempts my friends and I managed to get her off the plane. At the arrival hall, all of our families were awaiting with happy smiles on their faces… Faces that turned sad after finding out what had taken place in the air. In spite of everything, we were alive and our day nightmare had finally ended.
After everything that had happened we could only hug each other although we barely or ever talked about it. It really was an awful experience although with some good teachings. I didn’t think I could handle a situation like that, but realized that when there’s someone you really love and care about in the middle, you’re capable of doing many things that otherwise you had not done; at least I now know I am. I also learned that we don’t really know how we are going to react in the face of diverse situations and especially the dangerous ones since what we think and say we would do can and probably will be completely different from the way we actually respond under a certain circumstance. I learned I’m stronger than I thought, and I learned that life is just two days, so we might want to live them well.
I couldn’t help all of my classmates and for that I feel guilty, but I did my best for at least one of them and for that I am proud. I didn’t let my friend down, and I didn’t think of me but her. That, I think, is one of the best things people can do for their friends and loved ones: to let them know they can count on us not only when everything is fine, but also when the hard times show up.
Image by: GettyImages