I lean over the broken airplane, twisted metal reflecting dim lights from distant hangars. The engine clinks as it cools. My friend, Luke, shakes his head.
Five minutes ago, all was well. And then, as we left the ground, we heard a sharp thump and the airplane darted sideways, away from the runway, its propeller desperately clawing at the night sky. Somehow, she held onto the sky, limping sidelong and tremulous as we circled back to earth, and here we stand in the dark, shaking our heads, taking photos of an airplane that may never fly again.
The thump was a deer, sprinting across the runway. If she had arrived half a second later, we would not have met. But we did meet, and the deer, like the airplane, picked herself up and stumbled a few steps further, finally dragged herself off the runway to die.
As the shock of the moment passes, I begin to ask myself what this means, if it means anything at all. For now, it means I’m largely out of a job because most of my teaching was done in this airplane. It means the loss of a good machine and days of paperwork and email and phone calls. Bad luck, I suppose, yet here we stand, shaken but uninjured. Not dead. Not worse than dead, demolished in some hospital bed.
How many steps do you have to go back to measure your luck? Is it worse to wreck an airplane than to never have an airplane, maybe never to fly at all? Could I even count the hundreds of good things I have received that made this bad thing possible? The thousands of hours airborne in which bad things might have happened but didn’t; the dangers I didn’t even notice; the deer that crossed just after I passed…
I don’t know the moral of this story, but I believe my days are numbered, and that’s a good thing because they are numbered by the one who gave me those days.
* * *
You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways…
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
– Psalm 139
– Note: The middle photo is from a flight a couple of days later, showing how little fear deer have of airplanes. The deer that struck our airplane twisted the entire tail section (thus, her insistence on flying sideways) and partially separated the elevator and horizontal stabilizer.