Do you miss flying? Rarely does a week pass that I’m not confronted with this question. Logical enough, since it was the career I chose. One I eventually left. Funny how long it has taken me to sort out an accurate reply.
Being a competent pilot was consuming. Twenty-four hour call, twenty-eight days a month in a lot of corporate settings. Weekends, holidays. Stacks of recurrent reading. Planning. Worrying. Hawking the weather. Willing severe storms away from filed flight paths. All the while secretly coveting a superpower that always senses smooth air. Then there’s the other half of life. The personal part. Husbands, wives, children, pets, friends and family. Doctors, dentists, and hair stylists. Leaving very little time for hobbies and other interests. Only survival. Most days spent treading water.
Still, when I left my job and moved to Tulsa I felt sad. Disorientated. Lonely. Picture the Incredible Hulk cross-bred with Forest Gump. (Okay, slight exaggeration; my skin wasn’t green.) But like the wandering David Banner and Tom Hank’s eccentric Gump character, I found myself unable to cope, so I ran. “Run, Forrest…” Fortunately for me Tulsa’s a small town and when I’d wake up from my jogging trance miles from home, usually someone I recognize would stop and give me a ride.
A year went by and I continued to run aimlessly, still relying on kind souls for the occasional mercy pick-up, when at the end of a ridiculously long jog something unexpected pulled up to the curb. The driver leaned across the bench seat and hand cranked the window. “You need a lift sweetie.” She asked, her gray curls perfectly set as if just rolled at a salon. Rhinestone sunglasses slid to the tip of an impeccably powdered nose and she winked. I nodded even though I didn’t recognize her, figuring what harm could come from the petite senior citizen.
Strapped in the passenger seat of the powder blue Impala, the silver fox clenched both hands on the wheel and merged into traffic. “You know,” she tilted her head towards me while keeping both eyes glued to the road. “John Elway retired without ever winning a Super Bowl.” she smacked her pink lips smugly. “But that didn’t stop him from becoming a very successful businessman.”
If the visor had been extended, I’d undoubtedly seen my shocked expression reflecting in the vanity mirror. Imagine that. I grinned. Just because I wasn’t flying professionally any longer didn’t mean I was washed up, finished, a has been at thirty-eight. After all, I had nearly twenty years of stories recorded in my mental log book. Famous passengers, innovative executives and volatile co-workers. Pages of material scrolled across my mind’s eye. At that moment I knew I was destined to become an author. Committed to weave my flying experiences into a series of suspense filled novels. A career, I quickly discovered, required tons of research. During the digging and the interviewing, I found myself in uncharted territory. Trying things I’d never dreamed of attempting.
Here’s the thing. If I hadn’t stopped flying, I may have never caught a fish with a fly rod. Righted myself in a whitewater kayak. Become a proficient target shooter or learned how to rein a horse. Missed out on serving on charity boards, fundraising, or the opportunity to dig in my yard. Truth is, stepping away from flying widened my view to see a great big unexplored world.
In the interest of full disclosure, however, I must confess. Once in a while, when the sky is dark and blanketed with a layer of low, billowing clouds. The air, thick and soupy, weeping a soggy mist. And when the winds blow strong from an unfavorable direction, my insides stir longing to try my hand at what I used to do best.
E.L. Chappel author of Risk/Spirit Dance/Storm Chasers
Living proof that only focusing in one area can give you tunnel vision.
aka The Glamorous Wife
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