How a Near Miss on a Shanghai Runway Gave Me a Lasting Spike in Gratitude

A little before the Thanksgiving holiday, I was taking a flight back
to the US to help a sister of mine as she was about to have a toe
amputated. I would only be there shortly, but would be needed. Then I
would also need to attend a wedding in Salt Lake. The timing had worked
out so well to be able to help in both places. I was excited to be able
to go.

My sister’s story is one I should mention in
more detail later (she wants me to share this), but please note that if
one of your toes has a strange bruise under the toenail that slowly
expands and doesn’t go away for months, if may not be a bruise. Seven
doctors over a 5-year period told her it was nothing to worry about,
including a dermatologist who ridiculed her for thinking it might be
cancer or something serious. Fortunately, she finally met a melanoma
expert who was horrified to see all the classic signs of sublungual
melanoma, the deadly cancer that killed Bob Marley. He waited too long
before recognizing that it was something serious. For my sister,
fortunately, it appears that the melanoma was caught in time and had not
spread beyond the toe. Amputation of just a toe is a painful loss, but
she has much to be grateful for.

I experienced a surge
in gratitude a few hours before reaching my sister, and I owe this
gratitude in large part to Delta Airlines. I was on Delta flight 582
from Shanghai to Detroit, excited to be moving and even more excited to
have been given an open bulkhead row seat with spacious legroom thanks
to a kind flight attendant after I realized that the extra legroom I
paid for wasn’t quite enough for my long legs. As the rapidly moving
plane was just beginning to lift up from the runway, suddenly the brakes
went into action.

It was a dramatic stop. My book on an
open seat next to me was thrown to the floor. It was incredible to see
how quickly we could go from take-off speed to a full stop with the
impressive action of powerful brakes acting on each of 18 wheels along
with other changes made by a remarkably expert crew. They executed a
challenging operation perfectly, rapidly bringing the
plane to a halt with amazing stability. I learned later that 4 people
have to operate various instruments to make this happen. The technical
effect was remarkable.

What had just happened was actually much more dramatic than just the exciting deceleration. It was disaster averted. See “Disaster Averted at Shanghai Airport Thanks to Fast-Acting Pilot.”
We would learn that as our plane was about to go airborne,
another plane from Japan Airlines improperly crossed our path on the
runway. To avoid a possible collision, our pilots hit the brakes. Their
fast and expert reaction may have saved the lives of all of us on the
Delta plane and those on the Japan Airlines flight was well.


emergency personnel need to check brake temperature to see if we were OK
to try again. After an hour or so, we were told that the flight had to
cancelled. Later I would hear that a tire had burst and that there may
have been brake damage. We would have to go back to the airport, and it
would take another hour to get clearance for the plane to move. Once
inside the airport, we would find that we would have to exit through
customs, a process that would take about 30 minutes, and then would have
to start all over again to get a ticket and come back in through
customs and security. Each delay reduced the chance of catching another

as I faced all these delays that would normally irritate the daylights
out of me, I just smiled and felt a wonderful sense of gratitude to even
be alive. Living with delays and frustrations suddenly seemed like such
a great option compared to being a charred corpse on the runway, not to
mention the horrific thought of my precious Chinese science fiction
book smouldering and my Macintosh computer smashed beyond repair. 

called Delta on my cell phone while waiting to get through customs to
exit the airport, and was told that the next flight they could get me on
would be the following day, too late to help my sister before her
surgery or to drive her to the hospital. I wasn’t frustrated, but had to
keep trying, so I explained the medical situation I was needed for and
asked if there was any other way. Mercifully, after a long hold, the
agent received approval to move me to United Airlines. There was a
flight leaving in about 90 minutes. And it was going directly to
Chicago, where I needed to go, not to Detroit followed by a connecting
flight. I had just enough time to catch the United Flight. In spite of
all the delays, I ended up arriving in Chicago 30 minutes earlier than I
would have with my original less expensive flights, and I didn’t have
to pay anything for the change. That 30 minutes ended up making an
importance difference in my efforts to help my sister and her son that
evening (time to buy some much needed food on the way). And in any case,
wow, I was alive!

been a month since that event, and yet the effect has lingered,
cropping up in surprising ways. Things at my work are difficult at the
moment, and yet I find myself continually grateful and especially
grateful for the people around me. Their weaknesses have grown smaller
and their skills and contributions have expanded in my mind. I just did
performance reviews for my little team and it was very hard to be
critical and I found myself getting perhaps overly effusive in praise.
Good for them! 

love of science has recently led me to continuously reflect on the
miracles of this world. My digestive system, the ability to hear,
vision, the blood clotting mechanism, the incredible sci-fi-like
transformer agent called the spliceosome in our cells that cuts and
pasts chunks of DNA to create new and useful proteins far in excess of
the number of proteins one would expect us to have, the structure of
fruits, the bark of trees, the sun itself — all these things cause me
to marvel and rejoice more than ever as I contemplate the miracles and
design of our mortal world. How is it even possible? I have so much to
rejoice over, in spite of some reasons for sorrow and concern at the
same time.

hope I can keep this sense of gratitude. I know I’ve had near misses
many times in my life, but somehow this event really triggered a new
awareness of just how precious our time in mortality is, even though
this is a rough time of trial and not our intended final destination.
But it’s great to be here and to have a chance to get some more things
done in whatever time I have left. It’s a precious adventure!

Delta, and thanks primarily, of course, to the Lord for the many
miracles and kindnesses we have been given, including the basic gift of
life itself, however difficult it may be at times.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

3 thoughts on “How a Near Miss on a Shanghai Runway Gave Me a Lasting Spike in Gratitude

  1. I'm glad Our Man in China survived a close call. After my visit to China, I would think you have close calls like this every day driving on the streets or crossing them on foot, but I suppose in an airliner it really gets your attention.

  2. Thanks! Dave, you're right, I've had way too many close calls recently. For example, just riding my bike to work through the sometimes chaotic traffic of Shanghai can be a bit exhilarating with occasional adrenaline moments. Even taking the safer route of a big, stable bus can give one white knuckles. On one of my last bus rides, the driver decided to get past a big traffic jam by swerving into the oncoming lane of traffic and zooming to get as far ahead as possible before another vehicle coming the other way approached. It felt like playing chicken. But he managed to force his way back into the right lane in time. Buses tend to run red lights and take other risks a little more than I would like, though I appreciate the desire of the drivers to get their passengers to their destinations as quickly as possible.

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