I certainly don’t consider myself to be a religious person in a traditional sort of way but sometimes the awe of it all is overpowering and begs for explanation or at least recognition. Sometimes the most unexpected experience defines belief far better than intellect.
One of the loves of my life is flying sailplanes – the silent little fixed-wing planes that float along without apparent means. One day as I was discussing religion with a nephew, who is a devout Jehovah’s Witness, sailplanes flew into the discussion. My young friend asked what did I really believe in as far as God was concerned. I had always enjoyed speaking of religion with him for he was so incredibly knowledgeable about the bible and religious philosophy. At the risk of seeming disrespectful or even frivolous, I began to tell him about a flying experience I had a few years before when I was sailing along at about seven thousand feet amidst towering cumulonimbus clouds under a blazing blue October sky over the green hills of my home in Vermont.
This particular day had begun somewhat differently than many flying days in that on this day I was saddened by the loss of a dear friend and flying comrade who had succumbed to cancer. There had been a memorial service scheduled for my friend on this flying day down in Connecticut where we had so often flown together, but I was unable to make the ceremony. As I flew through all this beauty miles away in Vermont with a heavy heart, I thought of my friend and the joys we had shared through flying. I missed him deeply and knew that at least in this life, we would never fly wing to wing again. Suddenly, my little plane gave a shudder and began to climb up, up beside the magnificent clouds – 8,000, 10,000, 12,000 feet. I put on my oxygen mask and settled back. 14,000, 16,000, all the way up to nearly 18,000 feet, alone with just my thoughts and my little plane. “Goodbye dear Louis,” I called to the firmament surrounding me. “I can’t go with you any higher, you’re in God’s hands now.”
I paused, and for a moment, was at a loss for words with my nephew. I choked up with emotion as I remembered the exquisite beauty of that moment and the ceremonial release of my friend. I then remembered the final words from John Gillespie Magee, Jr’s. High Flight, “I put out my hand and touched the face of God.” “I suppose that’s my religion and my God,” I said. “That’s good enough for me,” my young friend smiled back!
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