Flight Lesson – 22
If you saved every word you said in the air, what would your story be? Starting as a student pilot, childish words skip out of your mouth and trip over your microphone. Stubbing your mind just trying to say – who you are, where you are, and what you want to do. Your flight instructor, always correcting and editing your transmissions, has sent you on a solo flight. Tongue twisted, finger shaking, afraid to push to talk – you wait. Blushing and rushing through each phrase in your memory bank, you race to catch up with your words before they runaway with your thoughts. Finally you transmit, and a novel pours out of you. “Silence,” A mysterious voice interrupts. “The airwaves are full of pilots telling their stories. We only have slots for four words per pilot, per lifetime. Choose carefully the words you choose to say.” Picking up your courage from the piles of emotions scattered around your head. Sifting through your thoughts, you go digging for the perfect word. A word reaches up, like an outstretched hand, lifting your tongue up off its knees to speak. A word so soft, it whispered right by your mind and out the other side, before you noticed it had been there all the time. You open your mouth, press the switch, close your eyes, and leap. “Fly.” And so the first word of a pilot’s story is written in the sky.
Well-seasoned from seasons of flying, you’ve saved stacks of words and lined them up alphabetically on the shelves of your mind. Reviewing each, section by section, carefully pulling down just the right one to take on the perfect flight. Confident you’ve got it all mind mapped out, you tuck the next word you’ll say under the cover of your tongue for safekeeping. Then the perfect flight hits you out of the blue sky, sending your spirit reeling. Every word you’ve ever lined up for the occasion pales in comparison to the pink salt sunset you just flew through. Terrified and twisted up inside. Choking on the wrong word chosen, you word-boot your own behind in a Heimlich motion. Suddenly words you’ve never said before start tumbling out of you. Aweburned, Skysmacked, Aircrowned, Cloudbathed. You take a recess from your mind to search outside for a word that nearly describes what you’re feeling inside. A mysterious voice cuts in, “Aircraft calling unreadable. Say what you’re feeling.” Suddenly set free from thinking what to say, a feeling floats up to the roof of your mouth and is exhaled into the air, “Flying.” And so the second word of a pilot’s story is written in the sky.
There comes a time, in a pilot’s timeline, when you have more names in your address book of comrades dead then alive. Staring into the silence in front of you, trying on which dark words to wear. You want to throw them all away and hang it up. Maybe three is your lucky number? Quit while you’re still alive. Say, “flew or flown,” and be done. No one around to listen to your stories anymore anyway. Despair shakes the roots of your soul and shoots out of your limbs. Reaching towards the push to talk, you resign to quit. A mysterious voice intervenes before you can transmit. “8:13am Lost contact with AA11.” You’re a pilot. You’ve heard the tapes and think you know all the words in-between. A story of a flight ending on 9/11. Our family hijacked, a dream kidnapped, and the breaking of our industry. Why listen? You know it will end with a shootdown order given. But that’s not what you hear next. A voice of a different kind, a fellow traveller speaks over the airwaves, “Hey, I got two stranded pilots standing next to my cab, lookin to hitch a ride anywhere closer to home. Who can give them a lift?” A true story. Suddenly your headset explodes with CB chatter. Truckers fighting over who would be chosen to divert from their routes to deliver the two pilots home to safety. Lights glowing in the night. The universe stepping in. Travellers giving aid and shelter to other travellers in times of trouble. An act of kindness so deeply rooted in our family tree, it is as old as time itself. The fighter pilot spirit in you reignites, and you resolve to fight your way all the way down to the ground. So much flight left in your life yet, you will not define your future by living in a past tense. A battle cry breaks your heart wide-open and cries defiantly into the night, “Flier.” And so the third word of a pilot’s story is written in the sky
Old, gray, sky wrinkled and wind chapped, you’re surrounded by loved ones at the end of your life. Holding every hand in the air circling your bed with love and light. A story of a pilot’s life summed up in perfect simplicity – all excess stripped away. “Fly, flying, flier.” Only one word left to say. Like a child’s plea to pick them up. Two throttle cracked and stick calloused hands rise up into the air. An infinity symbol of hope, a lazy eight circling back to never end. Smiling you say, “FLY.” And so a pilot’s story begins at the beginning again.
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