Not long ago our family bought a new tent. My wife and I had talked about it for three or four years. The plan was that I, being the “rugged outdoorsman,” who had passed along exaggerated tales of the campouts of my youth would pitch the tent in our backyard from time to time and manage the kids while my wife rested peacefully in our comfortable, warm, clean, quiet, freshly made bed.
Needless to say as we explored the tent market we were discouraged with the cost of a tent large enough to house five kids, their father and while very unlikely, their city-born mother who hyperventilates at the sight of any creature with more, or less than, two legs.
We thank the Lord for Costco now and then!
There it was! A ten by twenty-foot, four room condominium made of allegedly waterproof cloth that would just fit in the backyard space beside our swing set (Costco 2002). The price was right. The time was right; my kids had been after me to campout that very morning and finally, and clearly most important, my wife needed a night off.
For the rest of the daylight hours the kids argued about who would sleep where, which of the four rooms would serve as the dining room – popcorn, candy, and hot cocoa to be served later – and who would control the camp lantern when the sun set.
I tried hard to ensure that the grass, bugs, mud, crumbs of the afternoon snack and shoes stayed outside. And that the pillows, blankets, chairs, table, radio, cd player, cd’s, stuffed animals, slippers, books, crayons, coloring books, cups, plates, weather radio (my toy – just in case the weather got bad and a decision to evacuate was contemplated) kleenex, flashlights and pajamas – get this, folded and stored on shelves in two of the three rooms designated for sleeping, stayed in.
As night descended and the children finally settled down. They sipped hot cocoa as I read several Bible stories. When story time was finished everyone went to his or her now settled on spot to lay down.
It was lights out!
It didn’t take long for our first casualty. Three-year old Joshua wanted out. He was sharing space with four-year old Abigail who had just fallen asleep.
Josh mumbled something about a fox and her four pups that lived in a den just behind our backyard fence. He growled and held up both hands in claw-like fashion and intoned the first “daddy?” since lights out some twenty minutes earlier.
The quiet darkness was broken by one word, “Daddy.”
For any man who has had the blessing of children, you’ve heard the word “daddy” intoned several thousand times as a question, a plea, a demand, as a rebuke and more likely than not just for reassurance.
The two “men” prepared for the long trip back too base-camp (the house was about eight feet away).
This flurry of activity sparked more “daddy’s?” from three corners of our accommodations. These inquiring “daddies” were more of the, “how long are you going to be gone,” “will the fox get us,” “turn the light on until you come back, should we go too ?” variety.
That was the extent of the late-night excitement until the rains came.
There was one more “daddy” that night that brings me back to a tragic story that appeared in my local newspaper recently that brought tears to my eyes and pangs to my heart.
Shortly after 3:00 AM, Abigail woke and said a simple “are you nearby,” “am I safe,” “I’m going back to sleep” “daddy.”
Flight 5481 was ready for take-off from the Charlotte/Douglas airport. The pilot and copilot knew the plane was close to overloaded and went through their weight and balance calculations twice just to be sure. The cabin was full and so was the cargo hold. The pilots joked that the plane looked like it was “about to hit the ground right now with all the bags back there.”
Unknown to the pilots, the passengers and the ground crew loading the plane that morning, this Beech 1900D had been serviced just two days before and apparently a mistake was made. The servicing error didn’t matter at all until 8:47 that morning. Previous flights, after the service, were not nearly as close to the weight limit as flight 5481 was.
An adjustment of a system designed to control the pitch of the nose of the aircraft had apparently been performed incorrectly.
As the plane began its’ ascent, the nose continued to lift. The weight in the rear of the aircraft pushed the nose higher and higher. The first sign of trouble is noted on the flight recorder at 8:47:02.
Co-pilot Jonathan Gibbs: “Wuh”
8:47:03 – Captain Katie Leslie: “Help me… You got it?”
8:47:05 – Gibbs: “Oh (expletive). Push down.”
8:47:12 – Leslie: “Push the nose down.”
8:47:14 – Leslie: “Oh my God.”
8:47:16 – Leslie: (calling to controllers) “We have an emergency for Air Midwest 5481.”
And then there it was! A muffled voice cried out from back in the cabin.
8:47:18 – “Daddy.”
The faint voice was likely that of Caitlin Albury, the young daughter of Robin Albury who was sitting six rows in front of her.
The word cut the chaos occurring in the cockpit and cut my heart to pieces. That simple, but yet, complex word. I’ve ignored it so many times over the last nine years. So many times I’ve been to busy, to self-centered, to glued to the football game, to interested in the latest gadget to enter my home, to eager to finish that landscaping that will make the neighbors envy me to respond to that simple word “daddy.”
What was going through Catlin’s mind at 8:47:18? She was scared, confused and likely did not understand that just ten seconds latter she would die. She did what was natural to a child. She cried out for her “daddy.”
Caitlin was not the only one calling out to her father that fateful morning. At 8:47:14 a call to a father was heard from the captain’s chair.
We don’t know the spiritual condition of the two pilots on flight 5481 but the transcript of the flight recorder speaks volumes about the human condition. Co-pilot Gibbs swears at 8:47:05. Pilot Leslie cries out, “Oh my God!” While many may not recognize it as such, pilot Leslie was in the same condition as Catlin, Leslie said it too, “daddy.”
At 8:47:26 pilot Leslie calls out again, “Oh my God, ahh.” At the same time Gibbs cries out, “Uh, uh, God, ahh… but he finishes with an “(expletive).”
At 8:27:28 the recording ended.
All twenty-one aboard flight 5481 were killed that January morning but the story of the three people whose last seconds on this earth are now unalterably etched in my mind demands a reaction.
Just over two thousand years ago another life and death situation occurred involving three individuals who died a much slower, agonizing death.
In the gospels we read the account of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. On that day Christ was sentenced to die. Scripture tells us that Jesus was hanging on a cross between two criminals; one to his left, one to his right.
Unlike the pilots and passengers of flight 5481 the three on the crosses that day had time to prepare for death. They had time to understand and think about the end of their time on this earth. You and I may never have that chance.
Like Catlin we may never understand what is happening when death comes. Perhaps, like Pilots Gibbs and Leslie, we may understand how serious our situation is right before we die and declare an emergency however futile that act might be. But a common thread wraps our two events together and erases time as if two thousand years is just a moment.
That day on Calvary all three men, nearing physical death, cried out just like Catlin, Gibbs and Leslie.
On the left, one of the criminals snarls at Jesus “save yourself, save us if you are who you say you are.” “God (expletive).” 8:47:26. To the end this criminal, while understanding that death is at hand, fails to understand what is at stake. God is nearby — so close. Eternal separation – just moments away, as close as eternal life.
On the right, the other criminal responds, “This man has done nothing, he is innocent. We deserve our punishment but he deserves none of this, remember me.” “Oh my God, Ahh.” 8:47:26 (Luke 23:28)
In the middle, Christ gathers His last bit of human strength and calls out – forgive my simplification –“daddy!” 8:47:18 “It is finished.”
The three will die but in what condition? One dies in sin. One was dying to sin. One is dying for sin.
One malefactor, cursing, dies IN sin, refusing to let God be God of his life. Sin is separation from God.
On the other side a sinner dies TO sin. Recognizing at the last minute what was happening the criminal sees God at His greatest moment – dying for sin so that this recently rebellious man can be justified before his creator. “Remember me.” Daddy! He cries out. And by God’s amazing grace the man is saved and is with Jesus for eternity.
Between the two, Jesus would die FOR sin. That was His mission, His plan, and His reason for coming to earth. He had never sinned but he understood every sin. He was dying FOR sin as a means of allowing us to approach a loving, but just, God. He died for your sin, my sin, Catlin’s, Pilot Leslie’s and co-pilot Gibbs’ sin.
Our Father gave His only begotten Son as a gift to us. The body of Christ was broken for you. The blood of Christ poured out for you. The only thing we have to do is call out “Daddy.” All we have to do is recognize His Lordship over us. At some point we will all cry out — Daddy!
~ Mark A. Mix