I find myself in a position that every airline Captain hates…I mean vehemently despises. I have no options to consider. I have no decisions to make. And worst of all, I am NOT the arbiter of my own (or my loved ones) fate. It’s impossible for me to express how uncomfortable I am in this position, and I cannot begin to express how much I loathe it. I have lived my adult life making difficult decisions, and I have not only excelled at it…truth be told…I’ve loved it.
(The mighty Boeing 757 readying for the 0430 launch from Palau to Tokyo.)
My life’s work has been an infinite que of tough decisions. Do I accept the broken airplane with the promise of repair, or do I refuse the machine and cancel the flight? Do I add fuel to the dispatched total to compensate for the anticipated bad weather, or is the flight plan amount going to safely be enough? (side note; I have occasionally “discussed” the fuel load with said dispatchers over the years, and I’m glad to say that the term “Pilot in Command” is still very much alive and well.) Do I deviate 200 miles to the LEFT of the squall line or 300 miles to the RIGHT? Should I ask Air Traffic Control for a climb or a descent to escape the dreadful turbulence? Do I start the process to have the upset, rowdy passenger removed, or counsel less drastic actions? I have spent an entire aviation career laying my head on the pillow and critiquing the decisions I’ve proffered for that day. For the most part I have been satisfied…but like all humans, occasionally I’ve had second thoughts. The good news is that I have (mostly) learned valuable lessons from those “less than perfect” flights.
(Sunrise over the Pacific. Singapore inbound to Tokyo.)
I have made untold thousands of those decisions spanning the last 4 1/2 decades, and have accepted it as an integral part of the job description. But now I’m facing a new issue, a paradigm of control as it were, where I would love to be at the helm, but hence, I’m not. I find myself at the infant stages of understanding these ramifications, and just how incredibly difficult this will become. What this mostly means, is that I have no idea what to do or if I can even impact this issue enough to make the nightmare better. As stated before, I feel like I’m devoid of options. Control is most certainly not mine. for I am merely reacting, without even the option to be proactive. At the risk of sounding like a “male chauvinist”, here goes: as a man, as a husband, and as a close confidant and friend, I don’t like it…not one single bit. I’m not even sure if what little I’m doing is the right thing. As a professional aviator, I’m not used to occupying this role…the role of being the scared passenger on the flight that is my life.
You see, the dearest, most special, most sacred person in my life is sick…really sick. Her diagnosis was unexpected and as of yet, has been unexplained. It was like Thor’s hammer against our collective lives. I’m not sure if she can prevail against this foe, but if anyone can, it’s her. She’s small in frame and stature, but towers far above me in strength and fortitude. Her level of courage, coupled with her tenacity and shear will to “get it done” leaves me in awe. I’ve told her many times over the years, that had things been different in her life, I could easily see her wearing the honored trident of a SEAL, or carrying the shield of an FBI hero. She has no understanding of the phrase “I quit”, or it’s ugly cousin, “I can’t”. She’s rock solid in her mental toughness, and until very recently, was the same in physical being.
(One of the many glorious sunsets she and I marveled at looking west from Palau.)
Will she be able to conquer and live out her days with this serious medical issue? Every fiber of my being says that she will, but it will be a brutally tough battle, and (hopefully) a long journey. True to her nature (and upbringing), she has not complained, not whined, most assuredly not adopted the “victim” moniker, and I know she never will. Could one say the same of this old, world-worn “four-striper”? Nope…I’ve bitched, I’ve whined, I’ve questioned, and I’ve had more than a few angry conversations with my God. But I’ve also bent knee to pray and thank that same God for putting her in my life. I’ve promised Him that I will do everything in my power to excel in my role as care-giver. She was there for me 18 years ago in the hell of the Mayo Clinic chemotherapy cubicles, and held my hand through that dark, lost year. Most of my memories of that tunnel void of time, are of needles, X-ray machines, stone-face doctors, smiling nurses and her…my angel.
I find myself now as the trusted “right-seater” in the cockpit of life. The by-gone years I spent in the First Officer’s seat of the venerable Boeing 727 and the graceful McDonnel Douglas DC10 taught me many important lessons. Those years taught me humility, honesty, integrity, loyalty, and most of all, how to just be there…be in the moment…and to be as much help for the person next to me as I can possibly be. I’m there again, and I only hope that I’m up to the task.
My dear Dad once told me that there is no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole, and I know he was right. I also know that courage comes in a millions flavors. It was there shivering at the campfires of Valley Forge, Chosin and Bastogne, blinded by the powder flashes at Little Round Top and New Orleans, trembling in the forests of Chateau-Thierry and Hurtgen, sweating on Suribachi and at Khe Sanh, and standing tall at Fallujah and in the Helmond Province. But in my mere six decades, I’ve seen that unbelievable courage can be also be seen in the “combat” of our daily lives. In the last three months I’ve seen it in spades in the Heart Failure waiting rooms of Abbott Northwestern Hospital.
(Myself, my dear Debora and one of my all time favorite First Officers [now a Captain in our New York domicile].)
The journey continues…please never forget…prayers are always welcome.