Saturday, December 3, 2011

Love, Light and Flight.

In this month's edition of Bahrain's Grazia magazine (December '11), bougi founder Rozan Ahmed shares her thoughts on a recent (and harrowing) experience that almost put an end to her life. 

However, in stark contrast to what was initially expected, the near fatal flying occasion has actually resulted in a completely opposite effect. Read on...

"A significant part of my working life has been spent in the air. Zipping through the clouds en route to another country, to meet clients, to execute projects, to close a deal, to work - constantly. Another airport, another check-in, another hotel, another plane. A blur of security checkpoints, passport control, luggage belts, take-away coffees and cabin crew. A carousel of sameness, of feeling impatient and waiting to get there, to go home, to go back, to be on time - hopefully.

Flying was part and parcel of my day to day, something I never really thought about. Like driving, hopping on a train, catching a cab. Such was my level of comfort with flying that I became a little smug amongst those who appeared fearful; irrational thoughts about flying had no place in my mind. “Oh stop, you’ll be fine,” I’d say, “It’s like getting on a bus, nothing to worry about”.

Then, in the ultimate eat-my-words moment, I came within minutes of dying in a plane crash. This story will no doubt over time, become my best anecdote, but for now it plays an integral (and enlightening) part of who I am, where I’m going, and how my life has changed.

Four hours into the six hour flight, and nearly everyone was asleep, myself included. It was early morning and I had drifted off. Suddenly, something jolted me awake and as I pulled myself upright, I head butted an oxygen mask dangling in front of my face. A pair of hands appeared and I realised that the passenger sitting beside me was gently placing the oxygen mask over my face, as he had already done with his own. He did this down to me staring at the mask, still, a little stunned, assuming this was some kind of bizarre dream. The high pitched shrieking coming from the PA system soon made me realise that this was definitely very real. “PUT YOUR MASKS ON, PUT THEM ON, PUT THEM ON NOW”, was being emitted over and over again in a terrified manner by the cabin crew supervisor. I felt a trickle of fear, and then in a matter of seconds it was gone, as the plane began to descend in a near-vertical nose dive to the sea below. 

Seat-belt signs flashed. The cabin supervisor, still screaming. The curtain separating economy and business class had slid open and as I sat in the front row, I could see two air stewardesses, holding on to each other with tears streaming down their faces. Short ragged breaths and intermittent calls for calm came from the obviously shaken cabin supervisor, gripping the PA microphone a few feet behind them. 

That cliché about seconds becoming hours is so very true. We were moving in slow motion. I turned my head to look at the woman sitting next to me; she was clutching her 4 year old son, trying to calm his nervous little body. “Something is going to happen; you remember I told you about heaven before? You’re going to go there now and I will be with you, there is nothing to be scared of”.  I watched, listened, obscurely, as if this were all a film. And still, down we plunged, the interminable wait for impact. The speed of the descent was stomach wrenching. I felt like my insides had risen and were now stuck at the base of my throat. An American woman sitting across the aisle began to pray out loud, asking God to save us. She was so serene, so calm and unafraid. No one was screaming at this point, the only sound was a chorus of audible gasps as they clearly tried to come to terms with what was happening.

They say your life flashes before your eyes, and they’re right, whoever they are. In that moment, I began to think about the people I loved. Had I done enough for them? Did they know that I loved them? Have I fulfilled my duties? Have I made the right decisions? Places I had visited, childhood things, teenage memories, just a series of moments, in flash.

After what felt like hours, but was in effect 3 or 4 minutes, the plane stabilised. The shaken cabin supervisor came over the PA system again “Keep.… your... masks on. Keep them on.” A few moments later, the voice of the pilot: “We’re diverting to a nearby airport.” No offers of reassurance that everything was fine, because we all knew what had just happened, we had stared death in the face. 

Afterwards, when we landed, everyone reacted differently. The man who had calmly placed the mask over my face minutes earlier was now yelling uncontrollably, “We’re alive, we’re alive!” People began to cry. Others just sat still, as they were, clearly in thought.

We waited in the terminal together for another flight. Some huddled with their children, others wandered aimlessly while many, like me, chose to be alone. I tried to force my brain to think about the fact that I was getting on another aircraft but it wouldn’t cooperate. There was no fear, just waves of realisation. I started to feel overwhelmingly grateful. I wanted to cherish the people I loved; to live my life better than I had been before. I thought about a friend who was getting married in Paris. I wasn’t going as I had decided I was too busy with work. When we arrived at our original destination, I immediately booked flights to Paris. How could I not go? How could I have thought about work, over a dear friend’s wedding?

The weeks following the near fatal flight have presented an awakened approach to all things life. I no longer want to spend hours whiling away time over a computer, always working, sourcing new clients, planning business trips, and so on. For the first time in a long time, I'm improving my balance. There is work, but there must be play. My appreciation for life, family and good friends has increased dramatically. Time is, sincerely precious. Little things mean so much more, and despite always having an attitude of gratitude, I can't begin to describe how much more thankful I have become. I’m suddenly, truly, available, "in the moment", more in control, less fearful. Sleeping easier, loving harder, working thoroughly, and (imperatively) having fun. 

Count your blessings, realise that all the petty elements are just that, petty. Follow an operation based on appreciation, particularly towards those who love you...and please, thank them, thank God - always. That's really all there is to it.  

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