The Priest on the Plane - A Tale of Momento Mori

 Dear Henry,

 A short time after converting to Catholicism, I needed to work out of town. The night before my flight home, I wandered about inside a Catholic store. While perusing the various rosaries, icons, and other religious tokens, I stumbled upon the shelf of scapulars. On the back of one of the packages was a listing of the indulgences granted by scapular enrollment, and one of those indulgences was the assurance of a sacramental death, otherwise known as Last Rights. And so, according to my particular strain of logic, if I couldn't die without last rights, the scapular was the perfect thing to wear on an airplane because that means the whole plane has got to stay up, right?

*Side Note*  I should mention that this is not how scapulars work. There is a lot more to wearing a scapular than this. The Sisters of Carmel put together a wonderful FAQ about scapulars here.  

I didn't know any of these facts before my flight, so right before I left for the airport, I made sure I put on my new "aircraft anti-crash device" and went to the gate, assured that all would be well in the world.

The plot twist came almost immediately. A few minutes before boarding, a charming little elderly priest came rolling up to the boarding area with his two carry-on bags, and I immediately thought, "Oh, look, there's Last Rights." 

Everyone knows that if it's your time to go, the Angel of Death will find you. Personally, I don't want him to find me crying in a bathroom stall at the airport. So, ensuring my rosary was close, I boarded the plane with everyone else and felt very much like Cassandra from Agamemnon.

Fear was not my dominant emotion. As someone who has stood at *that* threshold twice (please see "The Accident" if you have any questions) and is a practicing Catholic, I strongly believe that death isn't the end of it all. And, because of said accident, I have quite a bit of vascular damage in my legs, and I'm very prone to costochondritis (it means the cartridge in your rib cage swells). The combination makes me susceptible to the blood clot/pneumonia form of dying, and I'm now of the "age" where I should be particularly concerned about it. Additionally, there is residual intractable pain from the accident, severe enough that I will not be sad about its end.  In short, I'm not afraid of death, although I would prefer not to have a painful dying.

Most of the time, I'm surprised I've lived as long as I have.

I mostly felt disappointed. There are still things I want to do. I spent the next two and a half hours thinking about them. First and foremost, I was disappointed to realize I couldn't have texted or called any of my sons to tell them I loved them without immediately making them suspicious that something was wrong. How did we come to this? 

I was also disappointed that I had never read certain books or walked The Camino. I was sad that I hadn't had the opportunity to tour the country with Fish (our retirement goal), and I was a little irritated that I still hadn't managed to become fluent in Spanish and that I was a terrible golfer. And, finally, I had hoped to live in a cabin in the woods with a big flower garden next to a creek before the big day.  

Anyway, the plane stayed in the air. But it was a very contemplative two-and-a-half-hour flight to Dallas. During my next flight (priest free!), I began sketching out what would ultimately be "The Bucket List" and thinking of ways to keep in better contact with my sons without them feeling worried or intruded upon.  

Since I created the list, I have been humbled by how easily distracted I am. There are days at a time that have been wasted on something other than what I want to say I have done at the end. But it's a work in progress, and perhaps, like so many other things, this journey matters almost as much as the destination.

xoxo a.d. elliott


a.d. elliott is a wanderer, writer, and photographer currently living in Salem, Virginia. 

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