The Shanghai Thirteen
As far as I know, members of the Rochester Oratorio Society have either returned home safely from China or set off on independent journeys. One alto flew to Japan to spend time with her husband who’s doing research there. I flew home with a small group of singers. We called ourselves “The Shanghai Thirteen.”
If you’ve been following this blog, you may recall that I experienced a moment of irrational fear before leaving the States. I remembered it while I was in China and laughed at myself.
But it came to haunt me on the way home, 40,000 feet above the Arctic Circle. There was turbulence. On a fifteen-hour flight.
Cathay airline’s in-seat entertainment system, a small TV and remote control embedded in each seat in front of us, stopped working, and for hours, we watched meaningless lines of computer code scroll down Matrix-style while the jet bumped and skidded across the sky. I imagined the pilots facing the same lines of frenetic code in the cockpit. System failure. Irrational fear seized me. My heart started pounding. I felt helpless. I calculated how long we would survive floating in the black, icy waters of the Bering Strait. Eight minutes? Three? I calculated we were about ten feet off the surface of the sea. Nose down.
Then I imagined the spectacular memorial concert the Rochester Oratorio Society would hold in memory of the Shanghai Thirteen. I saw the plaque inscribed in our memory. Would the Oratorio Society sing Faure’s Requiem or Mozart’s? I pictured the headline on the D & C. I wondered how long my Facebook page would remain active without regular status updates.
We slammed down hard onto a pillow of cloud. My stomach lurched. My palms sweat. I tried to laugh at myself, reminding myself that turbulence is normal, that the plane was designed to flex and bend with (how many tons of?) metal suspended between its long wings. I tried listening to relaxing music, but then thought Durufle’s Requiem was not a good choice.
We lurched to the right. The plane rattled. I started making deals. If my feet touch the ground again, I swore, I will be a nicer person. I will be more patient with my children. I will floss three times a day.
In the end, obviously, my feet touched down safely at JFK. I picked up my bags and continued the journey home. Later, I discovered that something had broken. It was a Chinese clock I’d brought back as gift for my husband. The circular glass case was smashed on one side, and the little orange fish that clicked in a circle around the mechanism stopped moving after only a few turns. Finding it shattered, I got upset. But my husband didn’t mind. He said he was just glad I was home in one piece.