Almost Heaven

We were in Aspen, Colorado, waiting for the passengers. From a bench alongside the FBO I watched the planes come and go and peacefully stared at the sunlit rocks and green mountainside. When my twenty-something co-pilot approached, wagging his head, pained look of bewilderment, I knew one of mankind’s sins had gotten hold of him. We occasionally argued politics but recently I had taken a more passive approach, letting him rant, asking a question or two, and then watch him bite into fresh new material and not let go. Hands on his hips, he started complaining about our dependency on oil as he scanned a full ramp of corporate jets. I reminded him that he flew a plane that guzzled more fuel on a two-hour flight than most people would burn in a year driving. But he was uninterested in facts. He looked at the mountain across the runway and told me about his aunt who recently died of cancer.

“She was in hospice. And at first, when I went to visit her, I didn’t know what to say. Our family’s not very religious and it seemed hypocritical to read from the Bible or anything like that. So I started talking about anything—family members, my job, and then I felt like sharing some of my ideas with her. Growing up, we visited her in Florida, where she lived. But we just did family stuff. I never told her what I thought about anything. So I started with the environment, saying that it was a shame we still had the gasoline engine. But that a new day was coming when not only cars, but even planes would be powered by the sun. She smiled a lot. She couldn’t really talk anymore, too weak.”

I kept quiet. I saw his aunt in the next world driving an electric car, passing fields of windmills and solar panels creating good clean energy for heaven’s populace.

He crossed his arms and spoke to the mountains, “Too much greed, I told her. And she’d nod her head in agreement. That meant a lot to me.”

I thought he was finished, when he started again.

“When my aunt was near the end I read to her from a preventative health book. Sound a little weird?”

I shook my head no. I wanted to hear the rest of the story.

“In this book there’re several prayers that you say before dinner. I thought it was appropriate to say a prayer, nothing Christian, of course.”

“Of course,” I replied.

“The prayer gives thanks to the earth for all her blessings and asks that the food we consume nourish our bodies and our souls. We’ve got to give people hope,” he finished, satisfied with his good deed.

I didn’t respond, watching the wind sock alongside the runway shift directions one hundred and eighty degrees, not unusual in a box-canyon airport: one way in, one way out.

“Anything we need to do before the passengers arrive?” my partner asked.

“Yeah, have the line crew put a quart of oil in each engine.”

For a moment he looked troubled.

“Don’t forget,” I said, “the oil’s synthetic.”

He laughed good-naturedly. “That’s a start.”


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