The date is January 15, 2009.
The time is 3:06 p.m.
You are on board U. S. Air Flight 1549, still on the ground at LaGuardia Airport in New York City. You are excited. This is the first time you have been on a plane without your family.
Today is a Thursday. You got out of school early to catch the plane. You are going to Charlotte, North Carolina, to be with your cousins and help prepare for a weekend wedding. The rest of your family will join you there Saturday.
You have a middle seat on the plane, between two large adults. You strain your neck to look out, and the woman in the window seat asks if you wish to switch seats. You smile and say yes.
You take your new seat, fasten your seat belt and watch out the window. In the distance, you see a flight of geese, and you wonder what it would be like to fly like that. You hear all the regular announcements about seat belts and stuff, but you do not pay much attention. After all, you have flown before.
You think about the great gift you are bringing in your suitcase to the wedding. The plane starts to taxi.
The time is 3:26 p.m. You feel the plane lift up off the runway. You watch out the window and hope for a great view of New York.
You sit back and hope they will serve a good snack. Suddenly there is a jolt. Now the whole feeling of the plane changes. You sense that it is going down, not up.
You lean forward and look out the window. The engine is on fire!
"Look!" you say to the woman who gave you her seat.
"We're going down!" she says. "Put your head on your knees!" And you do.
You hear voices around you. Some of them are praying. You hear yourself speaking out loud. "Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!" you say over and over again. (Whenever your friends ask, you always tell them you do not believe in God. But you do not think about that now.)
"Brace for impact!" the captain says from the cockpit. Flight attendants are telling other passengers to put their heads down.
You wait. It seems like forever. The woman beside you puts a hand on your shoulder. It feels good.
You wait. Then WHAM. The plane hits.
You wonder if you are dead. You do not think you are. You raise you head. "Where are we?" you ask.
"I think we are floating on the Hudson River," the woman says. "I hope this thing floats! Let's get out of here!"
People are beginning to stand up. They are talking about what to do, how to get off. Somebody says "Children first!"
"Let's go!" the woman says. She takes you by the hand.
You want to say that you are okay. You are not a little kid. You can wait with everybody else. But the words never get out of your mouth.
You crawl past the two adults. You reach the aisle and look toward the back of the plane. You see water, and you do not like that. You turn the other way and head for the opening, where people are already climbing out of the airplane.
Some people are crying. You move with the crowd. You reach the door. You go out, and there you are, standing in the cold on the airplane wing.
Somebody hands you a life vest and says to put it on. Five different people ask if you are okay. "Yes," you say. "Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes."
Ferries and other boats are heading toward the plane. Helicopters are zipping around in the sky.
"Get into that raft," somebody says. You want to tell them, "No, I can wait." But your mouth won't do that. You get into the raft, and off it goes, away from the plane.
Minutes later, you are on a ferry heading toward shore.
More minutes later, you are in a building somewhere, with everybody else. You see the woman who was sitting next to you and wave. She waves back. You hear that there were 156 people on the plane, and that every single one of them is safe.
"Wow!" you say. You begin sharing stories with other passengers. You wish you had been picked up by a helicopter. That would have been cool.
"I said about a thousand 'Hail Marys' up there," somebody says. You know that is a form of Catholic prayer. Other people also say they were praying.
You wonder if your family knows what has happened. You hope they are not worried.
People keep asking your name and checking it off on lists.
"Stay right there!" somebody tells you, and you do. "Come with me," the same somebody says, and the somebody looks official, so you do. You hope you are not being kidnapped. You have already had enough trouble for one day.
"Look over there," the somebody says, and you see your family. They have not yet seen you. They look very upset and worried.
"Hey!" you yell. "Here I am! I'm okay! I'm okay!"
You have survived an airplane crash. You want to walk slowly and proudly to your family. But your feet have a different idea. They start running.
Your family has a lot of arms. You hope you will not be smothered in everybody's hugs. You have already had enough trouble for one day.
You say your terrific wedding gift is gone. "Don't worry about it," everybody replies. "We can get another gift. We can never get another you."
Later, as you stand around arranging a new flight, you remember last Sunday. Your Riddle and Mystery group was talking about big questions. You are glad that you still do not know the answer to the one about what happens when you die. You just came way too close to finding out.
"Come to think of it," you tell yourself, "after what just happened, I have some other big questions." You know you will be thinking about those questions on your next flight.