I created this account of a memory of an experience that happened when we lived in India for a writing project at Greencroft in June of 2021. It appeared in We Are More Than A Single Story. Greencroft Communities, 2021 edition, 57-58.
During a flight in India in 1998 from Kolkata to Chennai where husband John and I were on staff at a Lutheran seminary, passengers suddenly noticed smoke coming out of the overhead luggage compartments. Crew members hustled through the aisle opening all of the overhead bins releasing more puffs of strangely scented smoke.
Passengers became collectively quiet. My mind shifted into a higher gear. Not overly anxious, I did ponder whether this might be my final flight. I mentioned to the Divine that if we survived this venture, I would know that further tasks awaited me. Presuming that crew were trained for such emergencies, the delay in any message from the cockpit seemed less than helpful. But, immediately a tune and scattered words came to mind: “. . . peace attend thee . . guardian angels . . . all through the night. . . .“ Pondering what more the song expressed gave a calming focus to puzzlement about the flight. Not much more activity could occupy us when belted into our seats anyway.
When told that we would soon make an impromptu landing at an airport far from our destination and that no other airplanes were available there for connecting flights, we agreed to spend the rest of the night in a motel room with an Indian woman whom we had met for the first time at the all-Mennonite retreats—John with youth and I with women—that we had just attended near Kolkata. Having alerted our employer of our delayed return, we chose to adjust to this, yet another unplanned change. Many Indians are adept to shifts in routine whether due to a sudden monsoon outburst, delays in an office opening for the day, or walking the uneven sidewalks alongside a city’s congested streets.
The next day I filled and addressed a blueish-green, fold-up, paper airform that would take at least ten days to arrive with my 92-year-old mother (Bessie) in Iowa. Telling of our unique experience that ended safely, I asked if she could locate the complete song that had calmed my being while cruising in the air, admittedly grateful that land and not an ocean lay beneath us. Ever-ready to explore, Mother went to her neighbor and good friend Alta who, on hearing the phrases, directly found a well-worn songbook. Soon a return airform started its ten-day journey toward Chennai in south India with the complete verse of an old Welsh lullaby that starts “Sleep my child.”
Not having thought of that lullaby for multiple decades, I remain amazed at how the mind works, how experience enriches life. And yes, how guardian angels linger.