While Sarah M. Johnson was on a mission’s trip in Guatemala with her family, their plane crashed in a remote village, leaving eleven of the fourteen passengers dead. Her brother and father died in the crash, and her mother was severely burned. Sarah was not injured, but her life was completely turned upside down.
In her memoir Life is Beautiful, Sarah shares her story and full journey of trauma, loss, and finally resilience. However, it is more than a story about an airplane crash. Life is Beautiful shares the personal struggles of Sarah’s father’s drug use, his recovery, and redemption to be a better person. He gives back by doing missions work in Africa, takes in Sarah’s aunt dying of uterine cancer, and eventually leads their family to the mountains of Guatemala. Sarah also discusses her struggles with alcohol use and depression; where she eventually hits rock bottom. It is not until she starts seeking God through prayer, books, and therapy, where she starts to turn her life around.
“I want people who read, Life is Beautiful to know is that no matter what happens in our life, whether it be a particular trauma, loss, divorce, relationship conflict, job loss, illness, financial crisis, addiction, etc. that we all have the capacity to get through it. And once we get through this difficult time in our life, we have the ability to become stronger individuals because of it,” says Sarah.
Chapter 1 – The Crash
I remember all of the emotions, the trees whipping by, everything happening so fast, dad yelling, Here we go, and mom screaming, Stop it. I remember my brother Zachary looking back at me, his eyes bright with fear as I prayed God please…
I remember the sense of something coming; you know it’s coming and wonder: will I live?
I remember the violence of the plane plowing into the ground as we attempted an emergency landing in a roughhewn field…Boom, boom, boom…and then nothing but an unnerving silence.
I don’t know if I blacked out or merely paused with my eyes closed in the stillness of those first few moments. Awareness comes slowly. Then in a rushed breath of shock and revelation, Thank God I’m alive.
My eyes open to an eerily lit silence where sunlight and shadow intermingle, making it difficult to see into the new geography of the plane’s interior. My head and body buzz. My mind trips on the dissonance of dangling upside down, held a few inches from the ceiling of the plane’s cabin by my seatbelt.
Taking stock of my body, I notice that I peed my pants and there is a small cut on my left arm. Looking up, I see that one foot is missing its shoe. My eyes squint into bright sunlight that passes through a relatively large doorway next to me that was torn open.
The only noise to break the silence is the erratic popping of electricity; the final groans of a dying airplane.
I move my arms first and then my legs, which causes small shards of glass to fall from where they’re lodged in my clothes and upturned seat. I tilt my head back toward the ceiling beneath me and it is covered in broken glass.
My hair dangles down away from my face, but the position of my body and the way sunlight cuts through the cabin makes it difficult to see much of the plane. In those few seconds I realize that I am okay and begin to think that maybe we are all okay; that the crash wasn’t so bad.