In aviation, pilots often file what is known as a “fight plan.” A flight plan is the route one is going to fly and at what altitude, how much fuel you have, how many people are on board, expected time of arrival (so someone can look for you if you are late), etc.
One item that goes on the flight plan if the weather is forecast to absolute crud (that's a precise meteorological term you usually don't hear on the weather channel), is an alternate airport. Because in flying, like anything in life, things often don’t go as planned.
It was going to be one of those days. I was supposed to fly out on an airline and visit my daughter Rebecca and her husband, when a winter storm closed down her airport. I had the time off and the tickets, but now I was stuck at home on my days off. The weather out in the
Rockies was fickle, the late spring wedding they had earlier in the year starting with ten inches of snow.
If you really think about it, most things go that way.
How many times have you planned a flight, a vacation, or a night out, and someone gets sick, the weather turns bad, or you made the mistake of using a cut-rate travel site and your luxury beach romp for $199 per person turned into the Alabama Chain Gang Holiday? How many times did you get that cranky crew chief that didn't like either pilots or prolonged eye contact? (If you do, don't blink, don't ever blink.)
How many times did life sometimes mark you, pulling away bits of flesh or even a heart without a suture to mark it closed so it will heal, nothing left but the fading whisper of guns and the descending of flags?
Some folks can't handle change, expecting that life will go a certain way, and by God, it had better---and they don't really do well when it doesn’t. I was in a CVS and witnessed a guy chew out the clerk as he bought his four pizzas, three boxes of cigarettes, and half gallon of Tequila with an almost hysterical "By God, you don't have any more of the breakfast sandwiches with sausage, and what the hell am I going to eat?!”
My dad is not that type, instead letting things roll off of him like water---perhaps why he survived adopting and raising two redheads when he was already middle-aged.
Dad has always been active in the community and the church, as well as his local Chapter of the Lions Club. One thing he was particularly proud of was the Chapter’s newspaper recycling fund-raising program. It provided income for community and scholarship programs---but not without a lot of hard volunteer work. The shining marker of that program was a newspaper recycling facility built to further expand on that community project. The members constructed it themselves: husbands and fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers, laboring in cold and rain, heat and sun, often at the expense of their own sleep. In November 2000, newly constructed, vandals burned it to the ground.
There was nothing left but a few support timbers, lined up in stark order like gravestones at a military service. The men, Dad included, simply stood there stunned as water dripped from the remains, strips of clouds like bayonets against the sky. A lot of work went into the recycling center, all done by volunteers and many of them WWII vets in their seventies. You would have expected my dad to storm and rage against a senseless act of destruction. But he didn't, though I was not so naive that I didn't miss the simmering outrage within which lives a betrayal too intense and inert to ever be articulated.
On the flip side, I remember Mom's funeral. I was pretty young, not a child but still wet behind the ears, and I was trying to help Dad as much as I could. He realized before the service that he needed a haircut, his not having paid any attention to that sort of thing the last few months of her life. I offered to help. I got out the clippers, turned them on and made my first path through his hair (though bald on top, he had some fine red hair on the sides). Uh-oh. Apparently you're supposed to put a guard on there to get it the right length. I'd shaved him clear down to the scalp.
Other than shaving his favorite football team’s name on his head, there was nothing to do but shave it all. He went to Mom's service looking like Mr. Clean. No one dared say anything. But you know, Dad hugged me, made some great jokes about it, and held his head up high as he said goodbye to his first great love.
It made it easier a few years later when, in support of a girlfriend diagnosed with breast cancer, a couple of us shaved our heads in support. Only she ended up with a lumpectomy and just radiation, kept her hair, and we looked like Goth biker chicks for several months.
But I was OK, because I learned from Dad that whatever bad things may happen to us, there is only one thing that allows them to permanently damage our core self---and that is continued belief in them. You may cry, you may make that sound that is simple agony; but it is not the sound of relinquishment or acceptance, even if to the ear they are the same.
It's your choice. You can go through your days with intractable and unceasing conviction of the inherent instinctive duplicity of all men, including yourself. Or you can give folks around you the benefit of the doubt until they prove otherwise. That doesn't mean you assume man is never evil, for indeed he can be; and you may find that out in a moment that's like the false dawn between dark and light, when only God's winged and four-legged creatures know and sound the alarm which you may not hear. For those moments you are prepared.
But in your day-to-day activities with friends, colleagues, and neighbors, practice patience and trust. When things don't go as planned or someone does something with the best of intentions you'd rather they didn't, simply smile and help them fix it---or ignore it and move on. When someone betrays you, forgive (but never forget the bastard's name).
It's simply a matter of perspective. When you have a fight, a failure, or a Charlie Foxtrot on our hands---as you may when human will, machinery, or Mother Nature are involved---you can shake your fist and cry your tears until you drown in them. Or you can dry your eyes, pick up the pieces, and make something of value with what's left. You may even find that what you thought you wanted was not what you needed, finding a happiness you never expected by the loss of what you did. For what some people think will make them happy---no challenges, no bends in the road, only expected behaviors and outcomes---is for others something else. For those such people, the predicable and easy is but an old, flat habituation for which no effort is made to move beyond it; until they are so used to that life that they fail to smell and taste it.
My day did not go as planned; my weekend did not go as planned; the chance to travel to see my child now gone. I could simply say that I shoveled a boatload of snow and slept alone. And that would be true, but it is not---because my time was what I made of it, not what was taken from it.It was warm sheets going on smooth and taut with the remembered motion of hands. It was pastry formed and rolled and layered with fresh butter and remembered motion. It was playtime with a puppy. It was time to remember, to say thanks as I looked down upon the creeping ridge of snow and ice before my shovel. NOT with anger but with astonishment for the divine snowy brightness that for just this moment forgave an imperfect landscape its transgressions.
It was one phone call that made me look at the whole world a bit differently. Because for the first time since Allen and I had bonded as children, on this day when I heard a voice that sounded exactly like mine, I felt like I belonged.
There would be other phone calls from her, plans to meet sometime in the coming year. Outside the birds twittered with happiness, having found the bird seed strewn out across the dry, clear ground. The snow had ended, the light growing bright, graduating from gray to rose to the sky's ultimate sapphire. I wrapped a warm blanket of gold about me, looking out onto the mist of frozen water as I savored the myriad waking sounds of life.