The Park

written by Steve Neill

John Stone is a busy man. He is so involved in his life and career he never stops long enough to experience the world around him. He rarely notices the sunrise, let alone the sunsets. As he drives to work every day he fails to notice the birds in flight, the clouds or the beautiful landscape and mountains all around him. He works hard, has a family, but his passion is so strong for his career that he misses quality time with them. They rarely went on camping trips. He seldom walked on the beach at sunset with his wife. John supports and loves his family. He sends his kids to the best schools. He provides them everything they need except the attention they long for. He tells himself again and again, “–after this project I promise I’ll spend more time with my family.” But that never seems to happen and the years pass.

John’s work, as his father before him, is in aviation. He is a great engineer and designer of modern aircraft. His passion for flight came out of growing up surrounded by his father’s passion for model airplanes. So much of his time, spent with his father as a boy, was spent building and flying model airplanes. His father and he would work in his dad’s garage workshop building together for hours into the night. His father would tell him great stories about the history of flight and the greatest pilots and designers. Dad’s workshop was a wonderland for John of magic and imagination. He would have rather been there then any other place on Earth. Once the great project of the stick and tissue masterpiece was made they’d fly the plane in the calm weather of sunset against the majestic orange colored cloud and purple skies. This was a time of magic for the young boy John. It captured his imagination and inspired him to great heights later in his life.

As John grew up, he left that all behind. To him it was time to grow up and stop playing with toys. It was time to act like a man and take life seriously. He wanted to make real airplanes forgetting that models were real too and the source of his passion. John loved pursuing his career in full size aviation and he forgot about the summer sunsets and the marvelous model airplane flying silently in sunset skies with his father. In fact, he was so involved in his work that he saw less of his father. Years later his mother passed away when John was only 30. It was hard on John but even more so for his father. His father was lost without his wife so John went to visit him for awhile.  While he was with his dad, all his dad did was work on his models in the garage. It kept his mind focused and away from the sad thoughts. He was quiet and didn’t have much to say. But he did always tell John how much he loved him. He told him many times that the hobby saved his life and kept his sanity in the worst and best of times. John just smiled but really didn’t understand.

Although John stayed in touch with his father and they talked regularly, he rarely saw his dad or spent time with him again. His dad was never the same after his mother died and distance grew between them. He always thought that when he finished a project he would take some time off; but the years went by and time passed quickly. One day got a call from his father. He had something to share with John that was important. They talked for awhile. His father seemed to be avoiding talking about that important thing. Then he told him, “Son, I’m dying. I don’t have much time and I really need to see you.” This was a shock to John. It knocked him out of the reality he had so long lived in. His world in the span of two sentences came to a halt. It was as though he had never been truly self-aware until that moment. He had lost his mother and now his father. For the next few months John spent all the time he could with his father. John did everything for his father. He fought that horrible disease with him. In the end, they lost the battle and his father passed.

It took John a long time to close his father’s estate.  The hardest part was standing in his dad’s workshop surrounded by his model planes hanging from the rafters. He was surrounded by the half built models on the build tables and the many kits he would never build lined up in stacks. There were pictures on the walls and then he noticed one in particular. It was one of John and his Dad standing together with a J-3 Piper Cub. This was a build they worked on so hard together one summer. He looked at the picture for a long time. He realized then it was his mother that took the picture. John felt lost. Where had he been all those years? How could he have been so self-centered that he lost the time he had with his father and his mother? He decided right there and then to spend more time with his family. He needed to make this all up to his family. He spent many summers camping and going on trips with his wife and kids. They did everything together. The years passed quickly since his father’s passing.

John would often look at model kits at his local hobby store but always put them back. He just felt inside it would never be the same and he was just too grown up to play with model planes. He continued his work in aviation and designed some amazing planes. He watched his plans turn into full sized airplanes and watch them take to the skies. It was wonderful but something was missing. John was truly happy now. Life was good and he loved his wife and children but something was still missing that he longed for. His children never took an interest in flight or airplanes mostly because John wasn’t there to share it with them.

Time passed and John’s kids grew up and left home, as all kids do. He spent even more time with his wife and they fell even more in love. All the time John missed and thought of his father and mother.

One night he had a very different dream about his father. It was a night like any other night. He turned the lights off, checked the doors and made sure the house was safe. He went to bed, kissed his wife and told her how much he loved her and fell asleep. John awakened slowly in another world. He knows he’s dreaming but then he truly wonders how it’s hard to tell the difference. He looks around and he’s in a beautiful place. It reminds him of a large park with an amazing landscape with mountains in the distance and a vivid blue sky. He’s sitting on a park bench. There’s a huge moon in the sky that has a ring around it. It’s all so surreal but at the same time so comforting and peaceful. He takes a deep breath and the air is like that of a pine forest, so clean and pure. This place has a feeling of happiness, no stress and a sense of well being he has never experienced before. The trees are huge and tower over the landscape. He can hear the air moving through them. Everywhere he looks he sees people of all shapes and sizes enjoying this park. He looks up into the sky as a shadow on the ground catches his attention to look up. He sees a shiny cigar-shaped craft with portholes silently moving across the sky. As he looks around, he sees many more and they are landing. They are a bit far away but he can see people getting out of the flying buses and walking into the park. He notices buildings beautifully blended with the environment so well they seem to be part of it. Some of the people walk by him. Some look completely human, others quite strange, humanoid but different. They gaze at him as they walk by and he feels a deep warmth emanating from them. They smile, even say hello. John feels a deep connection with these people, as if he knows them. There’s a landing pad near him and one of the buses lands. More people get out and go on their way. John looks at all this in amazement. He looks down at the bench and reaches out and touches the painted wood, rubbing his hand on its texture to see if this is all real. He feel every bit of the paint and wood grain.

John hears a voice from behind him. It’s a voice he knows well. He turns quickly to see his father standing there, smiling.“Hi son, glad you could make it here.” John is stunned. “Dad…” John looks around and back. “Dad how is this possible? Are you really here?” “Yes I’m really here”. John asks, “How did I get here?” John’s dad just points to the silver flying bus. His father asks, “You don’t remember?” John shakes his head, “No dad I don’t.” His father chuckles, “In time you will, John.” John asks, “Is this the other side? Are you all right?” His dad just smiles and says, “Yes.” His dad sits down next to John. “Pretty amazing place, huh son?” John replies, “Yes it is… Am I dreaming?” Dad answers, “I’m not sure. When my life on Earth ended, I was here. I came in one of those buses. It feels like a dream but it never ends. I suspect all of life and our consciousness is a dream on some level but I stopped trying to figure it out long ago. I’m here and so are you. I’m happy and that’s all that matters.” John asks, “Did I die…am I dead?” His dad looks at him a long time, “No John, you’re not. But our souls travel between worlds and this is just another world, a world in peace.” John just looks at him trying to take this all in. “Is this heaven Dad?” His dad just smiles and doesn’t answer. His dad tells him more. “Son… Mom is here too. You want to see her?” John starts to draw tears. “Yes Dad I do.” His dad just smiles. “Let me take you on a little walk to where I live now. Wait till you see the place, I think you’ll like it. I created it long ago in my dreams. I told myself when I die this is where I would go”

John and his dad walk out of the park and through the woods. The woods are beautiful. Filled with birds and animal life but always the feeling of safety was felt. The animals made eye contact with you and seemed to look deep inside you. Occasionally, they would cross the path of other travelers on their way to destinations in this other world. They would smile and say hello. Everyone there was happy and John imagined where they might be going and what life they might have come from. As they walked and shared the beauty of the forest the shadows grew longer and the sky over the trees more orange as sunset approached. The trail through the woods leads them into a clearing. They find themselves on the coast. The waves are crashing and the birds flying in the sky. The ocean stretches out before them and sitting there is his dad’s old house. There’s a windsock blowing in the gentle breeze. John recognizes this old windsock and the lighting bolt on it. It’s the same one his dad had at his old house. He found it a comforting reminder from his youth. He felt at home. John stops. He wants to take this all in. What he is seeing is heaven to him. His dad looks at him and smiles. “Son that sock tells me it will be good for flying later on. Want to fly?” John smiles back, “Yes Dad I do… I do.” His dad looks on, “Let’s go see your Mom I bet she’ll be happy to see you”

They walk into the house. It’s the home John remembers, maybe even better. It’s warm and the fireplace is ablaze. The house smells of sweet food and John hears his mom call out, “Welcome home John.” He looks at his dad then back to the direction of her voice as she enters the living room through a doorway. She is a beautiful charismatic woman with a glow about her that reaches through the air into your heart. They embrace and hug. Tears run down John’s face. John burst out, “Mom I missed you so much.” They hold each other for a long time. Dad joins in. This is a happy moment. John asks again, “How is this possible? I must be dreaming'” His mom replies, “Dear sweet John all of life is a dream, the world around us if what we make it. What we imagine we create. And your dad and I created this place out our love for each other… for you.” John exclaims, “But when I wake up from this dream I won’t be here anymore.” His mother tells him, “You’ll always be here John, if you hold us in your heart.” John tells his parents, “I’m so sorry Mom, I was so distant. I wasn’t around much. I never thought I’d lose you. Please forgive me… I’m so sorry. I didn’t know. I didn’t understand. John breaks down and his mom takes his hand. “John all is forgiven. It’s okay. We love you.” His mother looks him deep in the eyes. “John it may sound so corny but it’s true, love is all you need. Love is all that matters and love is the greatest power in our existence.” John just takes in this moment. His dad asks him, wanting to break the tension of John’s despair, “You want to see my shop?” John replies, “Oh, yes please.”

They leave the living room and go to his garage workshop.  It’s just like John remembers, pictures on the walls everywhere of airplanes, pilots, stacks of kits, planes being built on the tables and that wonderful smell that only a hobby like this has. Dad shows John his latest build. A beautiful J-3 Piper Cub. It sits on the table just finished and ready to fly. John recognizes the plane. “Dad this is one of the first planes we built together.” Dad smiles and says, “Yes it is. I thought you might enjoy it. Lets take it for a ride shall we?”

Dad picks the plane up and they go out through the side door. Outside they walk out to a beautiful sunset. The sky is beautiful and golden colored with puffy clouds. It’s calm and the old windsock just hangs motionless. They walk out into the open field that sits above the beach and ocean.

The plane is wound and dad holds the prop from spinning. “You ready Son?” John smiles, “Give her a good ride Dad.” Dad releases the plane. Silently with grace she climbs up to about a 100 feet and levels out flying in a slow circle against the sunset. It is a sight to behold. It looks just like a real airplane and they watch it with wonder. John feels like a kid again, such joy and happiness fills him in this moment. It banks over them as it turns circling them. Dad looks John right in the eyes as if he is reaching into his soul. Then it happens.

Suddenly both John and his dad are sitting inside the Piper Cub. Somehow they are transported inside the plane and dad sits at the controls. John is in shock as he looks down as they fly over the waves. Dad looks at him and smiles. “You see Son, imagination is everything. We are here because we want to be. We always wanted to do this together and here we are.” John is in awe, he doesn’t know what to say. He looks down and sees the old house and the windsock. They laugh and shout just having the best time flying the Cub. Mom comes out and waves at them as she watches them fly. They wave back. Then the motor starts to wind down making a clunky sound. “It’s time to land son.”

As suddenly as it happened they are both back standing on the ground. The plane slowly turns one last time and lands on a little dirt strip coming to a stop. Dad picks the plane up and comes over to John. “John, I know you’re confused but this is real. We will never be able to explain everything. The universe sometimes just is. It just happens. You have to accept it for what it is. But if there is a “real,” this is it.” John just stares at his father. His father puts his hand on his shoulder. “John, it’s time for you to go now. You need to go back to your life. You have people there that love and need you. Your Mom and I will always be here.” Dad touches his heart. “And if you keep in touch with your inner child you will see us again… and more. John you buried that child long ago and it’s what you have been missing. John let him come back.” John looks confused, “Dad?” “That child you once were before you grew up and got so serious. Because, if you do, such magic will open up to you and it will warm your heart and open your mind to possibilities.” John hears something. He looks up to see one of the buses coming towards him as it lands in the field. His dad looks at it too. “Now there’s something to think about, something that flies without wings although somehow it lacks grace and I prefer wings.” He laughs. “Son it’s time to go.” Mom walks up behind dad and takes his arm. “We love you John we’ll see you again”. Everything backs away from John in a long blur into the dark of sleep.

John is back in bed. He’s asleep and his wife wakes him up gently. “John it’s time to get up honey. You have a big day.” John looks perplexed, confused. He just stares at her rather lost. She sees this and asks, “John, honey? Are you okay?” He responds slowly, “I just had this amazing dream.” His wife chuckles, “Seems you have a lot of those, anyway it’s time to get up and get moving.” She walks out of the bedroom and John just stares for a time and gets up.

Days and weeks go by and John never stops thinking about the dream. Deep in his heart he knows it was real. His life and career continue on and John tries to engineer a flying machine without wings but they never seem to get further than the drawings he makes of the buses he saw in his dreams. Years go by and he never dreams or sees his parents again.

John is getting older. His wife and he spend precious days and nights together deeply in love. It’s a summer evening and John sits on the porch looking at the sunset and the beautiful country side where they live. His wife brings him a drink and hands him a package. “John this package came for you today. Did you order something?” John acts surprised, “No I didn’t.” He looks at it. It’s mysterious to him. He opens the package and as he does a Comet Models J-3 Piper Cub is revealed. John is in shock. Who would send him such a thing? John asks his wife, “Did you do this?” “Not me, John. Honestly.” A small piece of paper falls to the deck. He reaches over and picks it up. The note reads: “Thought you could use this, John. Set her free and the magic will come.” John’s eyes well up. He knows who it’s from now. His wife sees the tears running down his face. “Honey are you all right? What does the note say?” John hands her the note. She reads it and looks at John. “How can this be?” They look at the wrapping and notice the date when it was mailed. The date was from the 60’s but the kit is only now reaching him. “It must have been lost in the mail all these years.” John looks at the box and remembers building this very plane with his dad all those years ago and the joy they had spending that time together. He also remembers the J-3 Cub from the dream. He looks at his wife. “I have to build this.” His wife smiles, “Yes, I think you do John.”

John spends the next few nights setting up his garage turning it into a model building space. He puts up pictures of planes and pilots that have inspired him. He sets up a table. Clears it off and lays out all the tools and supplies he recently bought at the local hobby store. He is so excited to do this because he now realizes what he has been missing all these years. Something his career could never give him, simple childhood joy. Even the trip to the old hobby store brought back so many fond memories. The visit alone inspired him to build this plane. He came home not only with tools and supplies but several more kits to build later but the main focus is the Cub. The passion for the hobby was always there but he just needed something to rekindle it.

John spends many long nights and weekends working on the plane and it slowly evolves stick by stick into the beautiful J-3 Cub that he and his dad once built. He feels his excitement and inner child coming alive. And this makes him happy. He feels young again and full of wonder.His wife supports him and the hobby makes her happy. Her husband is alive again with that child-like wonder that attracted her to him in the first place. Finally the plane is finished. They both look at it in the garage shop it was born from. His wife smiles and says, “John it’s so beautiful.” “Yes it is, it’s more than that honey… it’s magic.”

For the next few days John test glides and get the airplane trim. He adds different rubber motors and tests the powered flight. Finally one late afternoon it’s ready for that first true flight. He tells his wife the plane is ready to fly. He’s so excited because deep inside he feels something more is about to happen. It’s just sunset when they both arrive in their backyard. Their backyard is a large field of grass. The sky is perfect. Just as in his dream all those years ago. John places the plane in the winding stooge and uses it to wind  the rubber motor up over a thousand turns. He releases the plane from the stooge and holds it in his hands. His left hand holds the prop, preventing it from turning. John holds it over his head about to launch when he looks over at his wife and then past her to the windsock standing still. John has put an old windsock up just like the one his father had. It moves ever so slowly revealing the lighting bolt. His wife smiles she is clearly excited. She gives him a thumbs up. In that moment time seems to slow down as he stands there looking up as his plane and the sky above. The orange clouds move slow in the sky, a seagull crosses the sky and a formation of pelicans soar by. John is excited, “This is it honey, this one is for Dad!” He releases the plane giving it a shove and the little plane climbs out heading for the sky. It climbs to over 100 feet and then levels off. It starts a slow turning circle around them set against the sunset.

Both John and his wife are really excited as they cheer the little plane on. The plane flies with such realism and as it continues to fly John feels a presence. Something is there, he feels it in his soul. He looks around and then he sees a man standing to the edge of the field. His wife sees him too. It is John’s father. He just stands there and smiles at both of them. He looks to the sky seeing the Cub and he smiles back at John giving him a wink. The moment is very magical, surreal, but he’s there. His wife is exhilarated by the sight of his dad. John is filled with joy that he shares this moment with her. His dad watches the plane fly and they all take in the moment. After a time the little plane lands on the grass and comes to a stop. When John and his wife look back dad is gone. But they know what they both saw and it will change them both forever.

John picks up the plane. His wife comes over and gives him a hug. “I can’t believe what we just saw. John. How? I saw him, he was really there.” “I don’t know honey but I have a story to tell you I never shared. I think it’s time I did. Remember that morning I told you I had this amazing dream?” John and his wife walk back to the house as John tells her about the dream. He puts his arm around here while holding the little plane that made magic from love.