This morning, there was a minute in my normal commute when my heart froze in my chest and my mouth went dry.
I was on Canal Road, stopped in traffic, smiling at the wild lilacs that have started to dot the hillsides lining the road winding along the C&O towpath. The bright blue sky suddenly darkened with a form outstretched across the lanes of traffic. Wings. There were great wings above me. I remember thinking initially it was a trick of the light and just a huge turkey vulture circling carrion along the road. Deer, a fox, a raccoon... Canal Road isn't a friend to distracted wildlife.
The shadow grew, and as it passed in front of me, I realized it was the shape of a plane far too low above the rush hour world. I could see the shape of the plane shadowed on the pavement and the roofs of the other cars. I saw the woman in the car next to me look up at the jet, too, her jaw dropped open.
The path the jet took was unfamiliar. I watched the wings dip and rise, and I held my breath as I waited for it to make the turn along the Potomac to begin approach for Reagan National. I'm sure it was only a matter of seconds, but it felt like forever as the plane continued on a route that made me grip the steering wheel harder than I had in a very long time. Finally, it vanished from my view behind the office buildings of Rosslyn. I rolled down my windows and turned off the radio. There was a stiff breeze that hit my face. Still unmoving in traffic, I waited.
I didn't try to catch the scent of lilac on the air. I just waited.
And nothing happened. Not a damn thing.
A plane, probably buffeted by high winds far above my head, made a very awkward, low approach (way too damn low) to an airport. Happens every day. Maybe it was a young pilot. Maybe it was just the wind. Maybe both. Probably a hell of a lot of silent passengers up there, white-knuckling the approach right along with the crew. Probably a lot of relieved humans when the landing gear touched the tarmac by the river.
Down below, some commuters in little metal boxes on a congested strip of concrete—commuters who remembered the days after 9/11—had a momentary flashback to the days of chaos, the days of seeing smoke rise from the Pentagon, the days of fear and sadness.
And then we breathed. In. Out. In. Out. The light changed, and we flowed into lower Georgetown and to our destinations across the District. Just another day. Nothing to see here. Move along.
It bothers me that such a simple thing can shatter your concentration and put you in state of alarm and worry so damn quickly. Humans are resilient... generally tougher than we give ourselves credit for. But our memories are long, and just as the scent of the wild lilacs on Canal Road can return me to childhood, the shadow of a metal bird can carry me back to things remembered with no happiness. I thought about it through my morning meetings.
Resilience. Joy. Sadness. Fear. Love. Loss. Hope. All the little pieces that make up the experience of a human soul. How quickly we move between those. Moment to moment, day to day.
Tomorrow, I will focus on hope. Hell, maybe I'll even take a different route to work. Today ushered in a time of change for me at work, and the promise of new and good experiences lies ahead. Over the weekend, a very dear friend told me to let go of some difficult and frustrating elements of my past. "Don't let people who've harmed you continue to rent space in your head," he said to me. Damn good advice. I need to take it.
Hopeful day, no shadows, here I come!