A private pilot. That’s what they call it. A license to venture out to your local airport, plunk down your rental fee and bore holes through the sky for an hour or two. License to fly.

Got my license to fly over thirty years ago. My wife gave the okay. No kids, no mortgage, no responsibilities to speak of. Kids came along long before the mortgage and she very nicely said, “You’re done with this flying thing!”  But flying was fun while it lasted.

Took lessons in a Cessna 150. It’s a two-seater airplane with the wing above you so you have a really good view of the ground while you’re flying. I like that. Spent most of my life on the ground and it’s a good frame of reference while floating in that three-dimensional world above the city.

Dave, my flight instructor, was a young fellow trying to log enough hours to get a real flying job. On the first lesson, he walked me around the plane showing me what to look for to make sure the plane was safe to fly. I asked, “Isn’t that taken care of by the people we’re renting the plane from?” He told me that they maintained the plane but it was always the pilot’s responsibility to be sure the plane was safe to fly. So we checked the movement of the controls, the engine oil, the front edge of the wing for damage, and the tires. We even drained a little of the gas from the wing into a little cup to be sure there wasn’t any collection of water in the fuel. Apparently the engine will stop if it tries to run on water usually creating a rather tense situation in the cockpit that all good pilots try to avoid.

Next thing I know we’re barreling down the runway 30, 40, 60, 65 miles an hour. And suddenly, we’re flying. The earth falls away below us and I experience that magical, just-short-of-weightlessness feeling. Instantly all my perspective has changed. The world gets smaller and weaves together in a pattern of streets, blocks, and patches of green. We climb to altitude and begin to make some gentle turns. So far, so good. We make a few more basic maneuvers as I learn to coordinate the ailerons and the rudder in the turns. We return to the field, the instructor lands the plane.

The next couple of lessons go about the same. The magic is still there the moment we leave the ground. Since takeoffs are easier than landings, I’m flying the plane at that magical moment. Then, in our preflight discussion prior to the fourth lesson, Dave tells me that we’ll be doing stalls and spins today. I knew these were coming. Wasn’t looking forward to them. As he explains the procedure I hear, “And then the airplane will be momentarily out of control.” Out of control. No, not a good thing.

I usually like to control every aspect of my life. I don’t like to leave things to chance, I don’t like to guess, and I was certain that I was not going to like my airplane being out of control… even momentarily.

Contrary to popular belief, stalling an airplane has nothing to do with the engine. The engine keeps running while you slow the plane enough so that there’s not enough air flowing over the wing to continue to lift the plane. It stops flying and falls.  That’s a stall.

The stalls weren’t as bad as I’d anticipated. Decrease the power, slow the plane, pull up the nose, keep it level, keep slowing until the stall warning horn sounds. Pull the stick all the way back and you stall. The nose falls and points to the ground. You’ve stalled the airplane. Recovery was simply to push the stick forward then immediately pull it back and apply the power to pull the plane back up. Sinchy!

Spins are very much like stalls except at the moment you stall you insanely jam one of the rudder peddles to the floor. Instead of a nice, gentle straightforward falling of the nose toward the ground, your plane is violently twisted to one side and spins with the nose pointing straight down. You know your life is over.

Recovery is more complex. You need to jam the other rudder peddle almost to the floor until the rotation stops and then simultaneously even out the rudder peddles while you briskly push the stick forward and then re-apply the power as you ease the nose back into a climb.

As I write this out for you, it seems quite simple and it is. But you need to perform all of this while visions of your funeral parade through you head, your heart rate exceeds the manufacturers recommended limits, and all of the blood that used to be in your head has traveled to your stomach and your stomach is in your chest. Or something like that.

Dave does a couple. I do one. He does another. I do a couple. Then, Dave tells me to take a break and watch him do another one. He tells me to watch very closely and do not, under any circumstances, touch the controls. I’m nervous already.

Spins were another story.

He puts the plane into a spin. We do two full rotations, I think. Then he calmly pulls his feet in under the seat and folds his hands into his lap. I give this all of three seconds and I’m thinking, “Great, I’m in an airplane with a psycho who has a death wish.” Just as I’m reaching for the controls as he had clearly told me not to do, the plane stops spinning. I stop and check the altimeter. Thiry-two hundred feet. Plenty of room between us and the ground. As I’m thinking this, the nose magically pulls up from near-vertical descent to almost level. Dave, still not touching the flight controls, brings the power back to normal cruise speed. The plane comes to near perfect, level flight.

Dave tells me, the plane is designed to correct itself from nearly any abnormal flight configuration to normal, level flight without the assistance of the pilot.  He explains that if I EVER get into a situation where I’m completely out of control in the airplane to pull back on the power and simply let go of all the controls.  He says, “You can make it worse by continuing to wrestle with the controls.”

Sometimes our greatest anxiety is created when we’re out of control of our life situation. We fight and wrestle the controls until we are frustrated and exhausted.

For all of the control we think we possess, we possess very little.  Seems that the sooner we learn that, the easier life’s journey becomes.

Sometimes the best approach is to simply take your hands (or your mind or your comments or your involvement) off of the controls and just let the situation continue it’s natural course and usually it will somehow right itself to normal, stable level flight.  Or… sometimes it won’t.   And we have to learn to be okay with that.

Whenever I get anxious about things that are running off in the wrong direction, I think of Dave, my flight instructor, calmly sitting next to me with a smile on his face, his feet comfortably tucked up under the seat and his hands gently folded in his lap while our airplane spun madly out of control.

What a good flight and life lesson that was.

            It's a Good Life! . . . .

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When David, my son, was about 4, he began telling us about his dreams.  We had never discussed dreams with him simply because it just hadn’t come up yet.  But we had talked about wishes.  Wishes were things that hadn’t really happened yet, but they might.  Wishes could be good or bad; but usually they were good.  Wishes he understood.  Dreams he didn’t.

His first attempt to tell us about his dream came out, “Daddy, I had this wish . . .”  Well the first few times we were thoroughly confused.  Because he usually told us this in the morning, and because we’re incredibly bright and sensitive parents, after about eight episodes of his “wishes”, we deduced that he was talking about his nightly dreams.

He would tell us of some fanciful adventure.  Sometimes he was dueling with Batman and Robin at his side, or driving a car, or flying with Superman.  These dreams were fun.  Occasionally his team would lose.  Those dreams weren’t so fun.

It was such a darling twist on the reality of dreams that we didn’t correct his phraseology for several years.  He’d start, “I had this wish.  I was flying with Superman . . .”  Or, “I had this wish, this big green ugly monster was chasing me . . .”

Whenever he was scared, he would come into my room and wake me.  He was too scared to go back to his room so I would get his pillow and a couple of blankets and set him up on the floor next to my side of the bed.  We’d ceremoniously fold several blankets into a makeshift bed, I’d tuck him in, and usually listen to his wish. I’m sure he felt very safe and loved.

But now you need to know the other side of the story.  Sleep and I don’t get along very well.

David is our third investment in the future of the world.  He has two older sisters.  David had, it seemed like, 1,346 ear infections his first year of life.  His Eustachian tubes weren’t working very well yet.  My wife and I had to begin sleeping on alternate nights.  One of us would stay up with him in the spare bedroom while the other would put a fan on high in the bedroom (a little “white noise”) and sleep the night away.  The next night we would trade.

This routine got me into the habit of getting up several times each night.  Eventually I arose even when it wasn’t my turn.

Finally, when he was old enough, we had little tiny tubes placed in his ear drums to drain the fluid.  His infections stopped and he began sleeping through the night. I kept getting up.

The habit continues to this day.  I read, drink a glass of milk, write, watch TV, or play video games on the computer.  Occasionally, I will sleep the entire night.  It is a momentous event.

David still had scary “wishes” for a few years.  They weren’t as frequent, but whenever he did, he would come into the room, wake me up and we’d go through our little routine.  After he settled in, I’d head off into the living room to read, drink a glass of milk, write, watch TV, or play video games on the computer.

Sometimes he would have his wishes several nights in a row  (I still like to call them wishes for old times sake).  I admit that sometimes I’d get a little frustrated.  In a little of a huff, I’ll sulk down to the living room to read, drink a glass of milk, . . . well you know.

20 years later on David's Wedding Day

But by the time I got back to the room, it was different.  I’d sit on the side of the bed and look at my precious son.  He would be totally flaked out.  I’d watch him sleep and print treasured photographs in my mind — peacefully sleeping, driven next to my bed by scary wishes.

Someday, when I’m a very old man, I’ll have wishes too.  Maybe by then I won’t be able to tell if they’re dreams or reality.  I’ll probably be lonely, tired, and just generally not feeling too well.  I’ll wish that I was young again; forty-five will sound just fine.  I’ll wish for someone who needs help with their algebra; for somebody to play catch with; for a dirty diaper to change; for a walk along the beach with my wife; and I’ll wish for a little hand on my shoulder in the middle of the night wanting little more than just to be with me and to talk about wishes.


            It's a Good Life! . . . .

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