Sunday, September 6, 2009

Before and After (Part Two)

Yep, that’s how I left you last time. (My very first cliff-hanger!)

But it’s true….Like Amy, I’ve been buried in “stuff” too. Old, moldy, dusty stuff with huge expectations and heavy-as-concrete images of who I am in the world.

Clearing out Amy’s items was a no-brainer—hey, I wasn’t attached to any of her things, so it was easy for me to say “throw it out” if it didn’t align with who she was.

And working with her, and talking with a few others this week, who are passionate about what they do, and experts in it, an old image came back. An image of myself that has haunted me my entire life…and that is:

Despite the deep and famous connection with flying held by my father, mother, brothers, sister, husband, and long-time friends, I am a not a pilot…I’m only a passenger.

Now, I love flying, I love aerobatics especially, and I am the “best passenger in all the world”, but I am not a pilot.

Until now…

Here’s BEFORE:

This woman is a Passenger.

She is bright and enthusiastic, but prone to doubt and despair at her untested qualities as a pilot. She can’t stand the thought of making a mistake, of doing something that other pilots consider “stupid”, of being judged for her landings, and of being expected to find her way around confusing countryside, scary control zones, and safely back to the airfield.

Sadly, many years of this image had etched itself into being The Truth for her.

Then…something began to shift. Will Allen (air show performer, award-winner, instructor) performed at the Arlington Fly-in (he combines his love for music and flight as he sings the National Anthem while doing aerobatics). It was such a unique combination; I’d never seen anything like it, and it stirred me somehow. The announcer said something about aerobatics lessons, and my husband gently said, “You should do that.” (Me? Do that?)

Next…my sister Erika weighed in with lovely stories of little flights she did in Mom’s Champ when she was only 17. She just flew solo to her summer job every day. No big deal. “It’s all about muscle memory,” she says. “You’re a dancer; you know what that feels like.” (Hmmmm…I do know that. Is it really that easy? But hello, dance is on the ground.)

Next…A flight in a Hatz biplane with Bob Weeks and his voice in my headset “Let’s just have her dance a little bit here” as he pulled the plane nose up, 3000 feet high, onto the edge of stall and just sat there, wavering from side to side, him knowing the exact feel of his airplane’s limits. “She wants to spin,” he said. “Then let’s let her!” came my reply, and we fell out of it into a quick little turn and a half. (This time, it wasn’t the spin that was exhilarating…it was the thought: I wonder what that would feel like, to have an airplane in my own hands, playing with the edge like that?)

Once again…the idea returns. What would it be like to take an aerobatics lesson??? (The little voices scream inside, “Are you INSANE??? You are terrified of making a simple landing and now you say you want to make an airplane loop, spin, and hammerhead? What is wrong with you—it can’t be done that way.”)

More pilots weigh in…and a disconcerting number of conversations end with, “you’re thinking too much”. (I know….but….)

Finally, one memorable conversation got my attention, “You cannot fly in fear. You have to fly from WANTING it.” (Whoa. New concept here. I’ve been able to get rides with wonderful pilots and aircraft ever since childhood. It came so easily, I’ve never needed to want it. It was always just…there.)

A few days later, I’m alone, driving along in my “open-cockpit car” (our Subaru with the extraordinarily large sunroof, open as usual). The music is turned up loud to Kenny Loggins, and all of a sudden, I am transformed…..

I am an aerobatic pilot.

I see everything. I judge distance and speed and timing. I glide in and out of formations with other cars. I apply power when I need it, and sometimes just for the feel of being pressed into the seat. I am precise, but relaxed. I am happy. I am powerful. I WANT this feeling…and all of Creation seems to smile back at me as I zoom past it.

I finally IS dancing….but in the SKY!!! And suddenly, I get it: My love for dance and flying can connect!

And guess who is the only instructor in this entire area for that….Will Allen, the singing aerobatic pilot. (Yes, I’ve left him a message, but he’s flying an airshow this weekend, so my lesson will have to wait.)

Waiting or not, it doesn’t matter. I am a duckling no more. And here’s my AFTER photo to prove it.

This woman is a Pilot.


  1. You know, I always thought you were a pilot like the rest of your family! It's so exciting that you are going to finally start taking lessons. (I finally learned how to ride a bike last summer! I had my fears of that since I didn't learn as a kid and just really didn't know how to start but finally did it!)

    I'd love to learn how to fly someday and when I was in South Africa I thought about doing it but did not have enough time or money at the time. Would still like to go back and do it some day. Have fun with the lessons.

  2. Security is mostly a superstition. It doesn not exist in nature nor do children of man as a whole experience it....The fearful are caught as often as the bold. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. -- Helen Keller

    You found a way (or the way found you) to slip out of the illusion of security and into the wild blue yonder! May wonders never cease, my friend!

  3. Wow! Come fly with me! Amazing, simply amazing.

  4. Now there's stunning before and after pictures. Stunning.

  5. Wow! I LOVE this! You ARE a pilot in that picture. The sky's the limit, my friend! (not really - there is no limit!!)