“You like roller coasters?”
“Well, if you like roller coasters,” the flight agent said, “you’ll love this. I hate flying in planes, but I’ll take a helicopter anywhere.”
We walked the damp earth onto a makeshift helipad to board the helicopter. The soil heaved mossy sighs of heat. We weren’t in Dallas anymore.
We were giddy. We both felt spoiled for being able to get away to a tropical island for our anniversary. I was a stay-at-home mother masquerading as a jet-setter, and my husband was Bond. James Bond. (But faithful.)
Through the grueling red-eye to Miami, we slept. We endured the second flight to St. Lucia. You’d think we’d be jaded after two flights in six hours. But we were beside ourselves with anticipation–our first-ever ride in a helicopter. Spoilage.
We strapped ourselves into the front seats, and my head got tangled up in wires as my husband and I pulled on our headsets. We got seats right next to the pilot. Of the five people that ambled onto the six-seater, only we had an unobstructed view of the lush, volcanic land that lay before us. What a gift. The pilot was so close to me, I kept my right arm stiffly at my side to keep from bumping him.
We had lift-off. The helicopter transformed from an awkward aeronautic sofa to a strong and graceful bird, gliding gently through air. I thought of how my 1-year-old son must feel whenever we lift him to us. Ground, then no more ground.
Except we were being lifted into a maelstrom. This was not what I had envisioned while reading the brochures plastered with sun-drenched skies and still waters. It was more like the earth had been turned upside down and all of its water poured on top of us.
A tropical storm lay sheets of rain on the windows, the doors, the wings. It was like aiming a water hose on a dragonfly. This craft was more intimate than some SUVs I’ve ridden in, and yet, where were the windshield wipers? How did our pilot see through the storm? We couldn’t see squat. My giddiness deflated into helplessness. Fear was creeping in.
The same phrase turned over in my hopelessly didactic mind: “This is a picture of marriage.”
In the plane, clouds and rain were like air speed bumps, tossing us until we plummeted past the point of turbulence. But now, as we flew smack into the storm clouds, the propellers were somehow buoyed by them, harnessing them. Like a palm tree, we swayed and bent toward the wind, captured and lifted and lowered.
We were so small against this Goliath storm, but it didn’t matter. The pilot used the wind to his advantage and flew undaunted through the pelting rain. He joked and pointed out the psychiatric hospital they were building off the cliff just to our right. “170,000 people on this island. We could all probably fit in that massive hospital. That’s saying something.”
I continued to scan the pilot’s face and body for signs of panic, but his hand firmly gripped the control and rested casually against his leg, with the occasional subtle movement to the right or left. When we could see, he pointed out fishing villages or that hotel where they filmed The Bachelor. We flew over the Pitons, volcanic twin mountains that still smoked with sulfurous heat. No trace of fear.
If he wasn’t scared, we determined that we wouldn’t be, either. Fear had already threatened to mar our enjoyment of the ride. The pilot’s joy, however, was infectious. We took pictures of him and us, the stormy outside, the churning ocean, and then, a breathtaking rainbow. My husband and I clenched our hands together and squeezed because we couldn’t hear each other’s glee above the chopper’s ambient noises and the surrounding storm.
The year before our trip had been fraught with life-altering circumstances: having our first child, and, for me, staying at home and quitting work (at a paying job, anyway). As I watched my faithful, hard-working husband close the door to our house each morning to toil for our family, I envied him. He had escaped. Again.
I, however, stayed firmly in the grasp of over-stimulation. The cycles of cradling, nursing, changing, tickling, feeding meant I was in a perpetual state of physical demand. I don’t remember when I signed my body over to an infant, but I was owned.
But now, flying through a different kind of storm, I was set free. My God, I thought. You are so creative and so kind. What a world You’ve made. Who am I that You are mindful of me? That You would look upon me with such favor by allowing me this wonderful man to fly with and to taste Your goodness?
Who am I? A woman honored to enjoy the ride God had given us.
I was sharing the ride of my life with my husband. To see the ocean as only birds have in generations past. To enjoy an aerial view of rainforest, cliffs, and coasts. To have such an experienced pilot, undeterred by storms, able to navigate even when we could not physically see, explain the lay of the land and take us safely to our lovely destination.
The copter rocked us with measured beats, like a cradle, as we descended on the helipad, just as the storm became a faucet shut off, leaving only a trickle of rain.
Basking in the luxurious downpour of provision, excitement, and beauty that God had just given us, we unbuckled, stooped down, and climbed out into the lushness of the next adventure God beckoned us to discover together.
Sharifa Stevens is a wife and mother, singer, and writer. She earned a B.A. from Columbia University in New York and a Master of Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. She lives in Dallas.