This is the title of the book I’m currently writing. It’s also one of the most oft-repeated phrases in the English language, recited thousands of times daily by a vast and far-flung cadre of professionals. It’s a phrase I’ve heard on every flight I’ve ever taken for almost forty years—and it’s always bothered me.
Whenever the flight attendant chants this mantra I want to stand up and shout, “I don’t want to land SHORTLY! I want to make it all the way to the runway!” But this would only get me arrested by the sky marshal.
Yes, the phrase is grammatically correct. The word “shortly” means “soon” or “presently.” But it can also mean “early” or “sooner than expected,” which is the last thing you want on final approach.
Back in the last century I was a frequent flier. I used my trips as occasions to do a quick life-check. I would ask myself as the plane readied for takeoff if I was “ready to go” in the ultimate sense of the phrase. If things came to mind that needed attention, I wrote them down and purposed to address them as soon as I could. This proved a healthy discipline.
In more recent years, cancer and a serious auto accident have been more painful reminders of mortality. My book will be a reflection on life by someone who is on “final approach,” as indeed we are all. Some of us will have a smooth landing and lots of time to get our seatbacks and tray tables in the upright and locked position. Others of us will crash with little warning and no time to prepare.
The one invariable is that every one of us will be landing shortly.