" ... enjoy life in all its countless inexhaustible manifestations."
- Count Leo Tolstoy
"I think it's all over, Leslie," stated my father, addressing my mother. To date, these exact words continue to reverberate periodically in my head. Although I was not cognizant of their significance at the time my father said them, I have become aware of their meaning. I am convinced that these six words had a dramatic impact on the course of my life.
My mother and father had talked about taking a vacation to Disney World for quite some time, and after months of planning, a concrete itinerary was finally devised. I remember enthusiastically jumping out of my bed on the day of our scheduled departure, ardently awaiting the chance to see Disney World and the opportunity to travel on a plane.
I still remember faintly how much fun I had running up and down the aisles of the plane and eating the complimentary peanuts. At the time I was six and my two younger brothers, who were on the plane, were three and four. All of a sudden, a somewhat distressed flight attendant stopped me cold in my tracks and told me in a concerned voice to sit down in my designated seat. Since I was an obedient child, I returned to my seat, only to find my parents in a complete panic.
The pilot of the airplane had flown too high. As a result, ice crystals were bombarding the plane and becoming entangled in the engines. The plane began to vibrate vigorously. The shrill sound of the emergency alarm sent shivers up and down my spine, and a sense of panic passed over the passengers as everyone began to strap themselves to their seats. Amid the screaming, I looked at my father and saw that his face had turned white as the clouds which encircled the plane. Despite the fact that I did not understand what was happening, I realized something was drastically wrong.
Then, to make matters worse, once the alarm sounded, the pilot mysteriously surfaced from the back of the plane. For the duration of our crisis, he had not even been in the cockpit and consequently, had not been aware of our situation until he heard the alarm! In a mad frenzy, he dashed past our seats and entered the cockpit. The passengers did not know whether to feel relieved or worried as this blur hurried past us.
Seconds passed like minutes and minutes like hours. Fortunately, the plane dropped in altitude and the vibrating slowly came to a halt. The pilot's voice was then heard over the intercom, announcing that our condition was returning to normal. We had escaped a catastrophe. To this date, my father does not understand how all of our lives did not end 12 years ago.
Although this was a horrific experience, I have learned a couple of lessons. First, I learned not to take life for granted because it can be taken away a lot more quickly than most people think. I am going to do as much with the remaining amount of time that I am given on this earth. Every time I hear "I think it's all over, Leslie" resound in my head, I am reminded of this incident and consequently am driven to achieve more. Another expression I have taken to heart is "Life is like a coin: you can spend it any way you want, but you can spend it only once." I'm going to make the best investment possible with that coin. c
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.