By Pat Amobi Chukwuma
Those who travel by air are quiet familiar with these two terminologies - take-off and landing. The plane starts first by taxing along the tarmac leading to the take-off point.
Before this, a member of the crew gives instruction on the important things the passengers should be conversant with. He or she specifies the emergency exists in case of any eventuality. The life-jacket is kept under the seat of each passenger should the plane land on water during emergency. The oxygen apparatus is to be drawn down from above one's seat in case of necessity. All phones must be switched off before take-off. Smoking is forbidden inside the plane. At the take-off point, the pilot instructs the crew to seat down; the passengers to tighten their belts; all electronic devices must be switched off to avoid colliding with the flight's electronic system which may cause mechanical and human consequences.
The first time I travelled by air, I nearly urinated on my trousers as the instructions were being given. I asked myself, “I thought they say that the safest means of transport is by air. Why all these frightening precautions? Are we flying into the land of the dead?” That day I made a perfect Act of Contrition and prayed, “Jesus I love you. All I have is yours. Yours I am. Yours I want to be. Do with me whatever you will.” I said it 15 times. Finally, I added, “Heavenly Father, we are flying close to your residence. Protect us in the sky from principalities and powers that be. Into your hands I commend my soul but let not my body vanish forever.” When the plane took off, I thought it was falling into the abyss. Emotionally I shouted, “It is finished!” The passenger sitting beside me out of curiosity asked me, “What is finished? Are you okay?” I replied, “Please don't mind me. I was dreaming.” That was my first experience of take-off. Since then the take-off fear has vanished out of me.
After getting into the space the plane starts to fly normal. This is referred to as cruising. The crew members resume their functions. The blood pressure of the passengers returns to normalcy. Food and drinks are served. Everyone displays cheerful teeth. Some dose off with sweet dreams. However, if the pilot announces the approach of any turbulence, the sleepers awake suddenly and silence takes over again. Some suspend eating and drinking and resort to prayers. Of recent, an Indonesian Airline took off and crashed into the sea few minutes after take-off. All the 188 persons on board perished instantly. We pray for the eternal rest of their souls and may God console their families.
When the flight is about to reach its destined airport, the pilot once more asks the crew and passengers to sit down, tighten their belts and prepare for landing. Gradually the plane descends fearfully. Prayers are once again said by everyone for safe landing.
Immediately the wheels of the plane touch the tarmac, every soul returns from limbo. Many exclaim, “Praise the Lord!” Phones are switched on again. Many call their dear ones and tell them happily that they have landed. Come and see joy radiating in every face.
Travelling by land is not so different. At a specific motor park, each passenger books a seat and gets a ticket to his or her destination. Before the vehicle takes off, the driver dolls out a record book known as Manifest. Each passenger writes his or her name, phone number, address, next of kin and the phone number. A copy of the Manifest is kept with the motor company while the driver takes one along. In case of accident, the Manifest helps in identifying the dead or injured passengers. Travelling by air, land or sea is a journey of probability. No wonder one driver inscribes on both sides of his vehicle in Igbo language: “A nata, e were.” (If one comes back alive, he should be appreciative).
That is the more reason why one of the Road Safety Rules warns drivers: “Drive with care. Many have gone.” The ember months do not cause accidents. It is the carelessness of some drivers that cause the accidents.
Usually I write the name and phone number of my Local Ordinary as my next of kin because my biological family is now secondary since I got married to the Church at my priestly ordination twenty-five years ago. The marriage is blessed with uncountable children of God. My grave has been apportioned at the Cathedral Priests' Cemetery.
Nevertheless, I am not in a hurry to occupy it now. If you are in a hurry, please go and take it as my Christmas gift to you. However, do not occupy my seat in Heaven which has been reserved for me since my conception and birth on April-Fool day. Fools live long. If you want to enjoy longevity, then join my Wise Fools' Club. You will never suffer from low or high blood pressure. If you are already suffering from any of them, your instant healing is assured. Registration is free. But you must possess the ability to read, to laugh and to assimilate the lessons therein.
In a race competition, all rules must be observed. All participants must appear in their sports outfit. The referee shouts, “On your mark! Get ready! Go!” Cheating in all its ramifications is forbidden. Running into another's track is punishable by disqualification, even if you come first or last. The use of drugs is a criminal offence. The supporters encourage their participant by shouting, “Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!” This gives extra-ordinary energy to the runner. Often there are some huddles to jump as test of strength. Some runners drop off at different points due to fatigue. Some become worn out and only pollute the air along their tracks. One or two may slump. I have seen a runner who slumped and died on the spot. Perhaps he ran into heaven or hell as the case may be. The first three runners to get to the finishing line receive their worthy prizes accordingly. Others who make it to the end may also get consolation prizes. Those who drop along the way are booed as they disappear shamefully from the stadium.
Spiritually transmitted, Saint Paul admonishes, “Do you not realize that, though all the runners in the stadium take part in the race, only one of them gets the prize? Run like that - to win. Every athlete concentrates completely on training, and this is to win a wreath that will wither, whereas ours will never wither. So, that is how I run, not without a clear goal; and how I box, not wasting blows on air. I punish my body and bring it under control, to avoid any risk that, having acted as herald for others, I myself may be disqualified” (I Cor. 9:24 – 27). God forbid! This is food for thought for all, especially for religious and political leaders.
Our country Nigeria took off as an Independent entity on 1st October, 1960 and has crashed many times with millions of casualties due to bad leadership. The late musician Sunny Okosun put it right when he sang some years ago, “Which way Nigeria? Which way to go? Many years after Independence, we still have a long way to go?” Our past and present military, half civilian and civilian pilots have flown Nigeria into economic, political, religious and human quagmire at various times. They fail to learn that leadership is a service to God and humanity. For them it is for self aggrandizement. The present pilot at the helm of affairs has plunged Nigeria into untold bloodshed and hardship. Blood is flowing on the streets with no immediate hope of arresting the ugly situation. The Boko Haram terrorists, though said to have been decimated, are still killing innocent Nigerians. The bloody herdsmen are on rampage here and there. The armed kidnappers, armed robbers, ethnic militia and cultists are spilling innocent blood all over the places.
The perpetrators are rarely arrested and prosecuted to serve as deterrence to others. Our electoral system is not yet something to write home about. Vote buying and other electoral malpractices are the order of the day. We remain prayerful as the 2019 general elections fast approach. Shall we elect a pilot that will land our country safely at the Promised Land airport? In God we trust!
The Church's Liturgical Year, which took off on Sunday 3rd December, 2017 (1st Sunday of Advent), is about to land next Sunday, 25 November, 2018 with the Solemnity of Christ the King. Since Jesus Christ is the Chief Pilot in heaven and on earth, our safe landing is assured. All powers in heaven and on earth belong to God. Man proposes while God disposes. Jesus Christ is the Saviour of the world. He is the Alpha and Omega. May He save our country Nigeria that has landed in bloodshed and hardship from the powers that be! When God says yes, no man can say no. Can I hear you say Amen!
Equally, the world calendar year which took off on 1st January, 2018 is about to land on 31st December 2018. Shall we land safely? It is a time for sober reflection and self introspection. It is a time to take stock individually and collectively. We are eager to see our country Nigeria cruising on the tarmac of fear of God, peace, progress, love, good leadership and good followership. No shedding of innocent blood again. We look forward to seeing the country being restructured humanly, economically, politically and otherwise.
As human beings, your life and my life took off on the day of conception. We cruised in our mothers' wombs for nine months and came into this physical world on the day of birth. The cruising continues with turbulence at various stages. Often we suffer from illness, deprivations, hunger, unemployment, poverty, man-made and natural disasters.
Success comes. Failure also comes. The spirit of survival and self preservation propel us along. At times human weakness pulls us down now and then. We fall and rise on our way to eternity. It is not an easy road. As the liturgical and calendar years are winding up, our lives are also winding up. We must therefore take all necessary precautions to see that we land safely into the hands of God on the last day which is kept secret. We have only two important dates before us: the DAY of BIRTH and the DAY of DEATH. Is Jesus Christ or the devil your next of kin? Shall we land safely in Heaven or fatally in Hell on the last day? The choice is yours and mine.