Almost 63 years ago, life ended for the lack of just 25 feet.
On August 26, 2018, as I have done many times in the past, I stood on a summit called Libby Flats. This windswept plateau is located about a twenty-minute drive from the town of Centennial, Wyoming. The beautiful town is nestled at the base of the Snowy Range and boasts a population of just 270. Libby Flats is at an elevation of 10,869 feet.
As the cold winds gusted up to 40+mph, I stared in awe at the beauty of the creation surrounding our family. From a vantage point that is higher than every state east of the Rockies, it seemed as though you could see into tomorrow.
An elderly man was visiting the summit as well. Together we looked up at Medicine Bow Peak and began to ponder the brevity of life. Medicine Bow is a rocky outcrop that sits at 12,014 feet above sea level. From our vantage point just 1,145 feet below, you cannot miss the only peak that juts up from the landscape.
Yet, on October 6, 1955 and in daylight, a United Airlines flight took a shortcut to save a little bit of time. Just 25 feet from clearing the only obstacle in its flight path, the life of Flight 409 came to an abrupt and fiery end. But it was not just the ripping and shrieking of metal that hit the rocks. On board the flight from Denver to Salt Lake City were 66 souls.
Ponder that for a moment, 66 souls crossed the line from the land of the living into the vastness and never-ending continuum known as eternity. Life ended all because flight plans were not followed, life ended because a pilot thought he could get away with taking a shortcut.
In the subsequent investigation, it was learned that Flight 409 was not unique. Many pilots did the same thing. Each pilot plotted his course, but then deviated substantially from that path. The last time it happened resulted in a devastating loss of military members, normal families, and two infants.
Together, the old man and I talked about what that last moment would have entailed. In a just a couple of seconds, the pilot and co-pilot would have realized their mistake and maybe together tried hauling back on the yoke. Desperately fighting for their survival, they knew immediately that just 25 feet of unyielding rock came between them and life.
It is said that the one thing we learn from history is that we never learn from history. Life is no different today than it was 66 years ago, or even 2,066 years ago.
People are still dying from trying to take shortcuts in life. They have a purpose in life, but people think they can save time by cutting through the mountains. Instead of just flying around them and enjoying the beauty, they miss their purpose and their perspective.
I looked one last time at Medicine Bow Peak and wondered if there were areas in my life where I was on course to crash just 25 feet short. If we are not careful, we can bring ruin to our lives and even destruction by thinking we can take unscheduled shortcuts.
My dad always told me growing up that if something was worth doing, it was worth doing right. In turn, I have taught my five children the same thing. Life is short enough without getting caught up in the shortcuts that life sometimes has to offer.
Drugs, sex, alcohol, workaholic tendencies, destructive habits — all of these can seem like what you think you need to make life work. For a while, life will fly smoothly along under your wings until the moment that it all comes apart.
Plan your life accordingly. Don’t allow deliberate shortcuts to creep in and take over your flight plans. Life can be difficult, but the peaks of difficulties can be overcome.
However, you cannot fly blindly. Enjoy the reason why you are here. When your life and mine comes to an end, our epitaph should not read as an accident.
Enjoy life. Live with purpose. For the true believer, the only real purpose will be living for Christ each and every day. There is a saying I have heard since I was a child, “Only one life, it will soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.”
As I pondered the brevity of life on the mountain, I also could not help but wonder where each of those 66 souls ended up in eternity. Despite what the world wants us to believe, there are only two destinations. For those without faith in Christ alone, there is only hell. For those with faith in Christ alone, a joy-filled eternity awaits those who cross from these Shadowlands into the presence of the Savior.