Monochromatic green. That’s the color of Iraq. All the cities we ever flew around appeared as varying shades of green. Despite several flights per week around the country, I can’t even say that I ever actually saw Iraq with my own two eyes. Instead, it seemed like I was in a helicopter watching a movie about flying around Iraq.
Viewed through night vision goggles, all light appears white; to include shooting stars. There we so many shooting stars. Here’s a tip for any aspiring military pilots: When executing combat missions under the cover of darkness, don’t talk about how many shooting stars you see. Other crew members simply won’t appreciate the beauty inherent to these singular events. Apparently, looking in the direction of possible threats has more value.
Why was I noticing shooting stars? Because they’re attention-getting. They are a bright light, the essence of ‘visibility’ itself, streaking across an otherwise dark sky. My crew’s point was well taken though; “Pay attention to what needs attention.”
Outside the cockpit, distractions abound. When flying, when living one of these ‘mini-lifetimes’, it is easy to categorize things as distractions. During a flight the timeline is set; the end is literally hours away. Think about what a distraction even is. Fundamentally it begs for something to be distracted from. There must be a goal, a reason. When flying, the mission, the intent, the goal; all these are clear. Mankind doesn’t take to flight on a whim. Or maybe it is a whim, but even flying for enjoyment is still a goal whose attainment distractions can prevent. Crashing and dying is not enjoyable.
Regular grounded life, on the other hand, does not have a set timeline. The end is nowhere in sight. But, just like flying, life has responsibilities that must receive attention. Does life have events like shooting stars that are distracting? Certainly. Should life’s shooting stars be viewed at the risk of failing to attend to the bigger responsibilities? No. Like I had to learn to stop noticing the seemingly unavoidable shooting star, all of us could stand to stop giving attention to life’s many distractions.
Attention is a function of time. It is a scarce resource. Pilots learn this the hard way. We call it channelized attention. Channelized attention is when we focus too much attention on something insignificant, such as a burnt out light bulb, instead of the significant gauge that tells us we’re descending into terrain. Channelized attention’s effect on grounded people may take longer, but let’s not kid ourselves about its strength.
Each of us must decide how long we will focus on life’s burnt out light bulbs while the aircraft is descending. The difficulty is, unlike large flying organizations which have an overall mission from which they delegate to pilots smaller missions, life does not have a universal mission. Each one of us must decide our purpose. Only you will ever know yours. But you do know. You’ve always known. It’s time then. Pay attention. I can’t afford for you not to.