Pilots Die Too
Today I went to the funeral of a man whom I wish I had known.
He appeared to have been perpetually tickled while on this side of terra firma, which is to relate that the images presented on screen and the tales told by friends and family alike were not only composed of smiles, but passed on smiles, promoted smiles, and made me smile.
Up until today my main thought about this pilot pertained to the crash and, “Why’d he die?”
Death, however, is so final that after today’s service my main thought is, “The shining sun sure seems brighter today.” Followed by, “I’d sure love to be able to hug H- right now–with a little extra squeeze to boot. Does she know, really know, that she is loved?”
It was the fall of two years ago, putting me shortly after my thirty-sixth birthday. I was in the midst of some men who were mostly fifty plus years old.
The particular interrogator I faced carried his ninety-seven years venerably. He was respected by all, by which I mean all jumped at the opportunity to serve him–even the seventy year olds who were twenty years his junior. Most often, if the short time I spent with him indicated anything, the service rendered was simply bringing a blanket to keep away the cold.
His topic of inquiry: Origins. Beginnings. Genesis.
He asked me because he had heard me say that I studied such things.
I didn’t know what to say.
Reader, don’t misunderstand me. I had my answer at the ready. Yet I was quieted by the emotional aspect of the stated query. This elder is about to meet his maker. Possibly that weekend. And he’s not only respecting me enough to see what I’ll say (though I have always suspected he’d cast a fool’s line), he’s maintaining his tight grip on the joy of investigation.
The content of his question eludes my memory, but it was something to do with the peoples of earth that the Bible characters met and from where they spawned. I told him, “I don’t know.” But I went on to tell him, “No one knows. Moses didn’t tell us. And we should be very careful when listening to someone who makes a claim otherwise.”
Today I will add that this, as with Paul’s comments on another profound topic within Beginnings talk, “This mystery is great.”
I couldn’t tell if he approved–of either my answer or me.
My reason for sharing this experience here is to give a glimpse into what I think is one of life’s pleasures which is unique to Christianity.
I Cried At Work Yesterday
I’ve been wanting to write to you directly for some time now, and finally an event at work caused me to put pen to paper. I don’t know how old you’ll be when you read this, but hopefully you’ll be old enough to understand it. If you don’t understand it, ask me or another adult about it.
The reason I decided to write to you today is that I wanted to tell you that I cried at work yesterday.
Now, I know you’ve seen me cry once, but you probably don’t remember it. And I’m sure you don’t remember why. I never saw my dad cry, but I have to believe that he did–at least once. Sometimes I think it would’ve been nice to have seen it with my own eyes as a boy. So in case you never see me cry again, I’m telling you now that I cry.
I cried yesterday because I found out that a guy who works for the same company as me was killed on the job, by the job. And in a separate incident, another guy was really badly injured and might die as well. As the group of us walked out of the noisily air conditioned trailer where we were handed this news and into the hot sun in order to get back to the dangerous work, I could only think of you. I could only think of how you look when you look at me, which is to say look up at me. Your chin sticks out; your eyes are at attention; your hair falls freely off the back of your head. You’re such a good listener. Well, it’s time to listen up again. Sad things happen in life. Really sad things. One of the appropriate responses to these sad things, even for dads, is to cry. But just because sad things happen doesn’t mean you stop living life. Sad things are a part of life–just like happy things and boring things. You have to move forward, move past them. Even though I was sad, I went back to work.
Okay. I think that’s it. I don’t have any big finale. I love you.
PS – I do have one more thing. You’re a beautiful girl H-, never doubt that.
“Chopper down,” the radio sputtered. This was a first. In the worst way. After all, this was supposed to be an ordinary mission. There was no added danger this night. There certainly was no reason to have expected this.
“We have to go get them! I’ll start running the ‘Before Takeoff Checklist,” the flight engineer suggested excitedly. This was difficult to stomach. There are some guys who just want to get into the ‘action’. He was one of those guys. I, on the other hand, was not. I remember my uncle, who was in the Navy, describing how once a helicopter caught fire as it landed on the ship. He recounted how so many guys ran towards the fire. A Sunday stroll was the pace he chose. That always stuck with me.
“Sir, do you want me to let them know the helicopter needs to be destroyed once everyone is clear?” asked the aircraft commander. The unit commander was on board this particular mission. He sometimes sat in the back of the helicopter to make sure he didn’t lose touch with what’s really going on as he only watches the missions on a screen most other days. Again, I was shocked. Wow. This is getting real, really fast.
The flight engineer pushed again for achieving ‘hero status’ in one mission, so finally I addressed him. “Look, we don’t even know what happened. If they were shot down, it probably isn’t the smartest thing to go fly into range of that weapon, is it?”
Confusion like this was relatively rare. But as pilots have a knack for analyzing past mistakes to avoid making them again, we knew what to do. We called it the ‘conservative response rule.’ This was a helpful tool to use in cases of disagreement among the crew. Basically, past aircraft mishaps revealed that when there is disagreement, the more conservative option voiced should be followed until more data can be gathered.
In the above example, one crew-member wanted to fly, the other wanted to wait. The more conservative idea was to wait, therefore we waited. Waited only until more information was available.
That’s the key to this rule. Even the name ‘conservative response rule’, brings to mind always doing the conservative thing, but that’s a severe misunderstanding which can hamstring entire missions. There are times during flights that being aggressive and daring is the right decision. The point of this rule is to make sure everyone is in agreement that selfless bravery is called for. If there is not agreement, stick to the conservative course of action until more information is available.
What’s the practical application to grounded life? Outdoor activities come to mind. How many times have we been with friends and disagreement shows up about what to do next? Say, climbing a mountain as a storm is brewing. Some want to continue, because they say the storm will surely pass. Others suggest turning back. Friendships have been lost over such situations.
As for me, I say stick with the pilots. Turn back or at least wait a while to see how the storm develops. Dead aircrew are longing for you to learn from their mistakes.
Unlike other ‘lessons learned’, this one has a specific audience. Within each of our friend groups, there are those who are natural leaders. If this is you, next time there is disagreement, put this rule to good use. Besides enhancing your status (rightfully so), it just might keep people and relationships intact.