Photo: Fabrizio Ferri
I have a fear of flying over the ocean. I'm not a good swimmer. Anytime I get on a plane, it's a flight of faith...a belief in something greater than myself: aeronautics and Universal Energy, what I call God. Flying over the ocean is particularly disconcerting. When I have to cross continents, I just do it, because I have a global mission that's greater than my fear.
I bought a home on a Hawaiian mountain because it was what I imagined paradise to be. I knew that every time I had to cross the Pacific to get there, I would challenge my fear. The day after Christmas, my plane had been airborne long enough for us to pull out Scrabble and start thinking about lunch. Urania (my friend Bob Greene's wife) had brought leftovers from Christmas dinner.
"No more mashed potatoes for me," I said. "I'll just have turkey—dark meat, preferably—and green beans." Our flight attendant, Karin, leaned over the table. I thought she was going to say, "No dark meat left," and offer another suggestion. Instead she said in her calm "menu" voice, "There's a slight crack in the windshield; we're going to have to turn around."
"Oh," I replied.
"The captain wants you to strap yourselves in and be ready for oxygen masks."
Oh, My God! Oxygen masks? What would happen to my dogs Sophie and Solomon?
"They'll be fine," Karin said. "We're going to drop to 10,000 feet."
I could feel my heart pounding and my voice rising, though I was trying to mirror her calmness. My mind was speeding: Oxygen! Danger! Oxygen! Danger! Danger! I can't swimmmmm. John Kennedy Jr. Oh, my dear God!
I didn't speak, but Karin later said my eyes were as big as plums. Stedman took my hand, steady as a boulder, looked me in the eye, and said, "You're going to be fine. God didn't bring you this far to leave you. Remember that."
The crack had spread and shattered the entire left side of the windshield. We could see it from our seats. Whoosh, thump, whoosh, thump. I know all the familiar sounds on that aircraft, and this was something different. I don't like hearing something different at 40,000 feet.
"What's that noise, Karin?"