No, Thank You!

airplane wing

Today, we gather with our friends, families, and communities to break bread, thank God, and thank each other for our lives together. Here, Becky Allender writes about a terrifying experience that evoked the sort of deep, intimate gratitude that goes beyond language. How do you say “thank you” when there are no words?

I had never heard an explosion like that on an airplane! I had never seen a more anguished look on my husband’s face. What had happened? And what is about to happen? We had been looking forward to our Ireland bicycling trip with three other couples for quite sometime. It quickly faded from our minds.

The pilot eventually got on the speaker and said, “Folks, you might have noticed a loud boom at take off. Our tires exploded and we are trying to decide if we should dump fuel and return to Denver or if we should dump fuel on the way to O’Hare. I will keep you informed.” A while later the pilot spoke again: “Folks, we have decided to proceed to Chicago.”

I looked down at the sampler that I was working on and could not believe the verse that I was stitching. Yesterday it seemed fine, but today, at this moment of such uncertainty, I felt near tears.

becky-thank-you-sampler“In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you.

I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you I will come

Again and receive you unto myself that where I am there ye may be also…”

I thought back at the past two days. My mother called while we were packing and said that she had had a dream of a plane crash. She even went as far to say that maybe we could change one ticket so at least we were not on the same plane. I was surprised with her clarity and her voice that was not apologetic. How could she do this so soon to our departure?

Oddly, that same day Dan’s personal assistant called Dan to see if he was home. She wanted to come and talk to him, and it sounded urgent. She came to our home and told Dan that she had a bad feeling about our trip. Did we really have to go? We both eventually fell into bed, but during the night Dan had a dream and saw a plane catch on fire after a heavy landing. It had shaken him so severely that he got out of bed and went to his study and wrote a letter to each of our children in case something did happen. He placed the three letters in envelopes with their names on them and put them in his desk drawer without telling anyone.

An hour before we were scheduled to land, the pilot got on the intercom and said that the flight attendants were going to pass out free drinks. The carts quietly appeared and, with stunningly solemn voices, people began telling the attendants what they would like. Many people asked for more than one drink—I wonder if that might have included me. My breathing became louder as the magnitude of our plight sunk in. At one point Dan put his hands on my face and whispered, “Becky, you are hyperventilating and you are really loud. You have got to quit this and breathe normally.” I didn’t know how I was going to do this but somehow, because of his touch, I quieted my breathing.

The time ticked on and we had not said much. Dan looked at me and held my hands and said, “You have been the best wife any man could have ever had. Thank you.”

How do you begin to speak of gratitude to a soul mate?

How and what could I ever begin to say to Dan to let him know of my gratitude that we had shared the past thirteen years together? It was awkward. My words were childlike and my heart was bursting with fear, and yet I was thankful to not be sitting alone on this plane.

My husband is an articulate man who has lived with words not only as the tools for his occupation, but also as a lifeline to save him from the complexity of his family. He spoke to survive. But I could tell he was stumbling as he spoke. His eyes filled with tears, and we both tried to tell each other what we had meant to each other. Was this to be our end?

Our words felt too simple. “Thank you for working so hard.” “Thank you for bringing such kindness to our children.” “Thank you for getting us a dog.” Everything we spoke was true, but far from the truth we wished to say. How do you speak from the deepest part of your heart when life is so frail? We looked at each other and began what Dan has eventually called the echo of gratitude. “Thank you.” “No, thank you for thanking me.” “No thank you for thanking me for thanking you.”

There is nothing in life comparable to being grateful. The more grateful I am for someone the harder it is to find words to express what I feel. It is not easy to acknowledge my need. I can’t be grateful without being in need. But far more than the humility to acknowledge that I am needy, I must also admit that I am speechless. The truest words of gratitude were spoken through our eyes.

I can’t be grateful without being in need.

We were eventually taught how to assume the brace position. The pilot told us to look out the window. There seemed to be over sixty bright yellow emergency vehicles lining our runway. At the command, “Assume the brace position,” Dan shoved my whole torso with such force that my forehead scraped the seat in front of me! Then he pressed so hard that my face ended up between my legs. We forcefully landed and bounced up and then came down with a huge thud, sparks flying from the metal which should have had tires connected. You would think we would have been cheering, but the plane was deadly silent.

When we got off the plane I was shocked that no one was there to offer any consolation. At least when we had been stuck on a gondola at Vail we were given lunch vouchers! Nothing was spoken about the trauma we had just been through. I really wanted to find a place to stand in the sunlight and pray. Dan, however, really wanted to get french fries and eat! Guess what? We got french fries and lots of ketchup and salt packets and laughed. It felt so good to be alive.

I trust if I am on my death bed with Dan sitting next to me, the only words I will be able to say will be, “Hold me, I am scared, and thank you.” So simple…and so childlike.