In the novel Fly Away by Lynn Austin, Wilhelmina Brewster faces forced retirement after teaching music at a Christian college all her adult life. She’s depressed and doesn’t know what to do with herself. She never married, never had any other hobbies or interests.
She volunteers playing piano at a cancer center sometimes, and one day there she runs into Mike Dolan – and they got off very much on the wrong foot.
Mike is a widower and a pilot who still flies for the business that he started and his son now runs. But Mike has just learned that he has cancer with a life expectancy of only three months. He doesn’t want to put his family through the same agony they experienced when his wife died, so he plans not to tell them. When the cancer gets too bad, he plans to fly – “and forget to land.”
Somehow he ends up telling Wilhelmina his plans, and she is horrified, especially when she learns he is not a Christian. But she has never witnessed to someone in her life. She talks to her pastor, but he feels like she should be the one to talk to Mike, since she knows him. She talks to her pastor brother, but he has someone over the evangelism department in his church and is not much help. She appeals to her professor brother, and he gives her several detailed arguments from Christian apologetics that she knows she won’t remember and doesn’t think Mike would respond to anyway. No one seems to know how to simply tell a dying man about the Savior and hope of heaven.
Wilhelmina tries to give Mike some tracts, but her efforts are thwarted. Somehow, though they keep finding reasons to see each other, and a tentative relationship begins. Mike feels sorry for her when he learns she has been retired against her will and tries to think of things to cheer up up – like a kite-flying contest with his grandchildren, something Wilhelmina never thought in a million years that she would do.
She learns that Mike isn’t just a project. And even though he’s dying, he knows how to enjoy life much more than she does.
My favorite line in the book comes from advice Wilhelmina’s father gives to a friend: “We have two choices, you and I; we can lose ourselves in despair or find ourselves in Christ” (p. 170).
I loved this story. I could identify with Wilhelmina’s personality so much. There were so many comical moments, yet serious ones, too. The book blurb says one of them is “figuring out how to live, the other how to die.” Lynn’s notes in the book share that this was one of the first books she wrote. The story takes place in 1987, later than her many historical books, but too far back to be called contemporary. It was published in 1996 and went out of print, but has since been reprinted, keeping the 1987 references, which I enjoyed. I am so glad it was reprinted. I would have hated to miss this story.