Every now and then, I go through the voicemails on my office phone and delete the ones I no longer need. I usually end up trashing all of them–with the exception of two that I’ve held onto for years.
One of these, which I received on Sept. 8, 2006, came from the PR representative of a Long Island, N.Y. charter and aircraft-management firm. The caller invited me to come along on a trip to Brazil, where the company planned to take delivery from Embraer of a new Legacy 600 business jet. Because the trip would be taking place around the time of Business Jet Traveler’s press deadline, I declined.
Good thing I did. On the return flight, the Legacy collided over the Amazon with a Gol airliner. All 156 passengers on the airliner were killed and, while everyone on the business jet miraculously survived, none of them will ever forget the experience.
New York Times columnist Joe Sharkey, who was on board the Legacy to do a story for Business Jet Traveler, was convinced in the minutes after the collision that he was going to die and scribbled a farewell note to his wife that he hoped might be found in the wreckage. After the Legacy managed to land–minus a winglet, its tail damaged–Brazilian authorities held him for interrogation for 36 hours. Joe later wrote about the whole traumatic experience for the Times and for us. Every time I hear the charter company’s voicemail on my phone, I realize how close I came to being in the seat next to him.
Incidentally, the Brazil trip wasn’t my first brush with airborne disaster. Back in the early 1980s, when I was editor of Phoenix magazine in Arizona, I accepted an invitation to take a ride with a company that operated sightseeing helicopter flights over the Grand Canyon. But a few days before my scheduled trip, I opened the morning newspaper to find that the previous afternoon’s flight had crashed in the Canyon, killing all onboard. Needless to say, the company canceled my trip (and when it eventually called to ask whether I wanted to reschedule, I said “thanks, but I think I’ll pass”).
That helicopter incident—and the voicemail about Brazil—make clear how easily, quickly and inadvertently everything can go to hell. Of course, the reverse is also true; thanks entirely to luck, life can suddenly take a big turn for the better. I almost decided to skip a certain event in 1988, but because I didn’t, I met the wonderful woman who became my wife and now have two great kids.
Which brings me to the other voicemail I haven’t deleted. This one came from my daughter, Myriam, on March 31, 2004, when she was all of four years old. In the sweet, innocent little-girl voice that she had back then, she left a simple nine-word message: “Daddy, I wish you were here. I love you.”
I like to play that recording from time to time. It’s a reminder of one of the biggest reasons I want to stick around for as long as possible—and of why I’m glad I sidestepped the disaster that could have followed the invitation in the other voicemail.