SOMEWHERE OUT THERE

One year a fellow pilot died and we all attended his funeral. Coming in to the service, we were given the usual small memento printed with the deceased’s birth and death dates and some comforting or inspirational verse. It’s intended as a keepsake, but after holding mine politely through the service I must have dropped it without a thought when I got in my car to leave.

That car was a sandblasted junker given me by an appreciative student who’d been reassigned at work and had to move away. I used it in ways never intended by the manufacturer, ramming it around the desert like a dune buggy, even hauling firewood in its seats.

A couple years later time came for another sad memorial when my father passed away. After roaring along the interstate for hours at 80 with all the windows down, traffic began to slow for the first time as we entered the outskirts of Phoenix. From some hidey hole in back, under the rusty tools, bark chips and trash, a small piece of paper shot up in the wind, zoomed around the cabin and fell like a wounded bird into my lap. It was that keepsake from the pilot’s funeral twenty months before – perfectly clean and uncreased.

After a long double take, the first thing that came to mind was, Dad never understood why soaring is so important to me and thought my career in it a silly waste of time. I believed that when he finally saw the point he’d have to approve, and always hoped for that day. But it never came. Now I had this image of him perched up there at the Pearly Gates, having met the pilot we buried earlier and who knows how many other disembodied aviators. Maybe they’ve explained things in a way I was unable to and Dad finally understood. Was this piece of paper, so pristine after long neglect, a kind of sign?

Easy to poo-poo such an idea, but as traffic wound through the city I could not stop thinking about it. Half an hour later, just before my exit, rush hour ground to a complete halt. I’d been listening to an Al Stewart album, sentimental vignettes of history and travel that somehow fit the mood, and the song right then was Lord Grenville, a wistful ballad about the early days of ocean sailing.

Precisely as traffic stopped, the lyric was:

Tell the ones we left home not to wait, we won’t be back again.

At that point, directly across the road ninety degrees out my window stood the hospital where Dad passed! Sitting in gridlock staring there and at the car ahead, I had time to ponder this.
When eventually traffic moved, that car ahead left the freeway at my exit. Entering the street grid it turned where I was going to, then did so again, and again. I began to wonder if whomever it was thought they were being tailed. Then they pulled over and parked exactly where I intended to, in front of my parents’ house.

It was a cousin I’d not seen in more than thirty years, far and away Dad’s favorite nephew. I drove four hundred miles, he came twice as far, and we arrived simultaneously — meeting up right where Dad left us.

You can dismiss all this as a goofy coincidence, but not me. We may never comprehend the unifying principle in this funhouse of a world, but that don’t mean there ain’t one.
The next verse of Lord Grenville begins,

Our time is just a point along a line that runs forever with no end.