Monday, July 10, 2017

Living in the NOW

     My tall instructor, Bjorn Johansen, thought I was ready to take the Big Leap, even though I was none too sure myself.  Without warning, he got out of the right-hand side of the idling two-place Cessna 150 trainer on the taxiway one breezy morning in 1981 and hollered at me over the slapping prop noise, “Okay, do two touch-and-goes and a full-stop, and I hope you’re wearing a cheap shirt.”  He closed the door, leaving me alone for the first time.

     I radioed for takeoff permission from Flight Service, swallowed, cinched up my seat belt a bit tighter, released the toe brakes, and swung out to line up on the runway centerline.  Took a deep breath and pushed the throttle knob to maximum power.  The brave little Cessna gathered up her skirts and sprinted down the runway, popping into the air quickly because she was lighter by nearly two hundred pounds, carrying me into the NOW as few other experiences quite can.

     If you drive a car down a highway, you always have the ready options to slow down or turn around or pull over and wait for traffic to thin or a storm to abate.  If you’re faced with any of life’s innumerable daily situations or dilemmas, you nearly always have the option to defer making a firm decision until tomorrow, or next week, or next month.  You can cut the grass or paint the living room or straighten out your filing cabinet when you’re feeling a bit more rested.  You can begin writing that novel when you’re not quite so busy.  You can learn a second language next year.  You can travel after the kids are grown and gone.  You can get along quite comfortably living to a large extent in the future.

     But when you’re cut loose to solo an airplane, once the wheels leave the runway, you are propelled irreversibly into the NOW.  You can’t pull over and think about it or wait for a better time.  You can’t put off landing until tomorrow.  You have to get that kitey little plane, and yourself, down in one piece and with a modicum of finesse, because your instructor is standing way down there beside the runway shading his eyes and watching your every move.  And you have to do it NOW.  It focuses you.

     I must have been ready because I managed the three landings despite some unexpected traffic appearing in the landing pattern in front of me on the last one, forcing me to extend the downwind leg, which I’d never done before, and back at the flight office Bjorn, in accordance with long tradition, happily cut the back out of my shirt, marked it with my name and the date, and tacked it up on the wall alongside a few others.

     It was a liberating lesson, not only about achieving a challenging dream, but also about how to live in the NOW.


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