Tuesday, October 4, 2011

On Patience

According to the dictionary, patience is the "ability to endure waiting, delay, or provocation without becoming annoyed or upset, or to persevere calmly when faced with difficulties".

True, but it's more than just waiting. Waiting is easy. We all sit each day, in traffic, in line at lunch, for that expense check to show up in our bank account, for a phone call that we have to accept will never come, a voice we will never hear again. But much of that wait is passive. We have no choice in the matter. True patience is making the decision to keep on going when the going is difficult and slow.

I don't have as much of it as I'd like. I do have red hair. What can I say. When I see something I like, I want it now. That perfect 10 ounce steak at the grocers, that book on restoring furniture at the book store, the wheel gun at Plainfield Shooting Supplies that I wanted like I was on fire. I don't want to wait for special order, or heaven forbid, back order. The little things of life's happiness, I want them now. But other things are worth the wait, where patience is simply hope made temporal.

I got into building models with my brother when I was a kid. Models, Lionel trains, Lego's and an Erector Set, now those were toys. Barbie's were the toy of choice for most girls, but I got bored in about five minutes collecting little plastic shoes and styling their hair. I wanted to BUILD something. Brother R. and I started with cars, then planes and trains and finally, a replica of the Cutty Sark, complete with rigging, laying the parts out with rapt delight, organizing the pieces like SunTzu assembling his soldiers. The rigging had to be done with tweezers and a needle. Miles and miles of tiny threads of rigging. It might have been easier if they'd included a gun. But we persevered, storing the completed models on shelves in our bedrooms, sleeping beneath their phantom forms. The car and train models are gone, but the Cutty Sark model still sits in Dad's family room, a bit dust covered, with a couple of sails askew; a small, cheaply constructed monument to patience.

Patience came in handy when I took to the skies. I've been aloft nonstop more hours at one time than you want to know, including delivering a single pilot aircraft or two with extra bladder tanks. There was some good money in delivering the planes after I parted employment (at least temporarily) with Uncle Sam, up to $1000 a day for a jet, depending on where/when/how dangerous. Some were brand new from the factory, other had decades of flight on them, now going to Central or South America, with owners who wanted a crew with a bit of experience to deliver an aircraft that, having been rode hard and put away wet for 20 years, might be a bit "temperamental".

One such flight had several Indian pilots, employed by the owner, bringing the plane back as passengers, not having the experience for a trans Atlantic flight in a jet they'd never flown outside of a simulator in Kansas. They were all really young and pretty excited about it all, this being the first jet any of them had been around. I told them to just "settle down in the cabin, relax and don't touch anything". We had magazines, food and of course the rental life raft, required for the overseas flight by reg, there in a large dark yellow, square package that resembled a 200 pound block of Cheddar cheese.

The flight was going pretty well, when halfway across the Atlantic, after a fuel stop in Greenland, there was this big WHOOSSSSH! and one of them came running up to the cockpit in a loud, excited 'Apu from Kwicky Mart' accent saying "Cap'n B ! Cap'n B ! Raft verry beeg ! Raft verry beeg !" Yes. They'd not been able to sit still and managed to inflate the life raft on board, which was now quickly filling up most of the small cabin and had to be tamed into submission by the Captain with a cheese knife from the galley.

Most of the flights I did though were alone, single pilot jets with big bladder tank installations long jaunts across open jungle or vast blue seas, fighting hunger and boredom. But I would find that there comes a point in the long flight, when you just settle into it, the seat, the sky, the sporadic communications from ATC just enough to keep you on the up side of wakefulness. Not much different than a long road trip in the car. On autopilot, the flying turns seamless and transparent and you simply watch the blue and and white and green go by at 5 miles a minute. You're simply sitting, completely still, while the world whips past you, stretches of landscape you've never seen, other lone aircraft above, blasting a contrail above and ahead like skeet, passing out of the realm of hearing even as they go silently by.

Storms build, your mind races, and feel like you're moving forward only by blood and sweat and instinct, compassing forever between safety and a horizon unknown. Clouds build and lightning flashes, the sky full of promise and danger, vast bodies of water into which you'd disappear forever, tall mountains of ice and rock and fluid need. You are aware of little of it and all of it as you wonder just how many hours ahead it will be before gravity and sleep and a cold dark beer are in your view. Patience.

The flight tonight is only between two towns that are simply neighbors, the sky peaceful. I pop open the window of the little taildragger and feel the Fall air blow in with a strength and depth that leaves goosebumps on my flesh. I think of many things I want, and am willing to wait for, the desire of this moment more than desire, but a force, quiet and assured, that telegraphs my soft hands to move upon the strength of wood and brass and steel.

Patience. I sit and watch the clouds go past, thinking back to my first flight, so many years ago, to the last person I softly kissed, to the smell of Lycoming exhaust mixed with the burnt amber of a cornfield, to the giggling laughter of two kids playing with plastic airplane parts and probably too much glue. Patiently sitting, watching, remembering everything past, in a bone deep calm that only a pilot or a sailor may understand, until it's finally time to descend. To descend through layer on layer of cloud, thinking back, layer and layer of memory. In this airplane, the first, the last, in California or the North Atlantic, winter to summer, hours to minutes. From that first flight to this one, the distance was too short, the journey, like love, not necessarily a destination, but a road that leads you gently back to yourself.


  1. "Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

    And on the other end of the spectrum we have this: "Beware of him that is slow to anger; for when it is long coming, it is the stronger when it comes, and the longer kept. Abused patience turns to fury." - Francis Quarles

    Both are applicable to the human condition. The wise person sees the difference between the two applications.

  2. I'll bet that life raft, like a cheap rain poncho, never went back in the original packing either.
    Very funny!

  3. kx59- I resemble that remark! I DID get the cheap poncho back into the pouch! I only needed a 1000 pound hydraulic press. So there!

  4. I'd have given anything to hear the first thought that went through your head when when sound of 'inflating raft' reached you, though.

  5. Amazing, great story. After a long six days of really crappy weather up here, finally got out for a 40 minute flight.

    At flight level... 1.8.

    Watched the deer wandering around along the edges of open fields, ready to do the one jump back into woods. Touched down just as the sun was setting.

  6. a bone deep calm

    No comparison of stature implied, I know something about this as a director, working very long days, most of it spent waiting for the crew, for the light, for the walkthrough and disciplined quiet and the third take where everything worked right and better than right.

    a bone deep calm

    It's the calm of command. You always say it so very well, B.

  7. Patience is a virtue they say, wish I had some...
    Laughing at the can of bag balm in the chuck wagon...

  8. 23 years flying little jets for the USAF and I never did an ocean crossing. Did a lot of back and forth down the Med between Spain and Turkey. That was in the days of procedural control since radar didn't cover most of the route. Could cut a lot of corners and once made the 5.5 hour flight in 3+40. Kept updating estimates to next point (which I never actually went to!) That, I guess, is "Impatience".

  9. Nice posting.
    Seems like the really well written blog posts are done by pilots.
    There's you - always a joy to read;
    there's Lex out in Sandy Eggo, and a couple of others out there in the blogosphere that causes the reader to stop and ponder.

  10. Have you priced Erector sets lately? take a bank reference..Have really enjoyed your remembrances.

  11. Ed - I've run into more than one very young pilot who was amazed we were able to actually find tiny islands in the middle of the ocean with steam gauges and no UNS1K.

    Woodrow - thank you and welcome. Yes, I read Lex all of the time. I hung up the flying squirrel wings a while back, just fly for fun, but always enjoy it.

  12. I think I've read about this before.

    ...And another item found in the Galley
    at that moement of need was of no small importance
    the steward handed her a small knife
    a light and flimsey blade named Hrunting
    the stainless blade with it's dulled edges
    had been tempered in butter; it had never cut.
    Her hand hefted it in battle...

    An excerpt from Brigidwulf and the slaying of Grendel's raft.

  13. EJ - brilliant! Should be required reading for all.


I started this blog so the child I gave up for adoption could get to know me, and in turn, her children, as well as share stories for a family that lives too far away. So please keep it friendly and kid safe. Posts that are only a link or include an ad for an unknown business automatically to to SPAM..