Dateline: Thursday, July 9th, 2009
On this third morning of another five day trip (actually a three day and a two day back to back) with all very early show times, I’m grumpy, to be honest. It has a lot to do with ‘springing’ out of bed every day at 4 to 5 AM, I’m sure. That and the wrestling I’ve been doing with my laptop, which stubbornly refused to connect to the internet at the hotel.
I contacted their technical support twice, they apologized twice, and that’s about it. Actually they tried hard to fix it but their efforts had no effect. I think my anti-virus software is clogging up the works. I’ve tried to turn it off, unsuccessfully. I ask out loud: why would you sell anti-virus software you can’t actually turn off when you need to?
I’ve been trying to complete my airline’s recurrent internet ground school course while on the road so I don’t have to do it at home during my ‘girl time’ with SG and M & M. On the first overnight in Albany my browser wouldn’t work, at all. I found that if you leave the calendar set to the wrong month after checking future plans (oops), you can count on this exact problem occurring. Before I got back in the right dimension the Albany hotel’s business center rescued me; and Rochester’s version will have to help as long as I’m laying my head there, again tomorrow night. I have to finish within five days, before my one day ground school the day before another three day trip starts. With two days off between five days of flying and this next stint, the road wear and fatigue can and is piling up.
When I get stressed I can whine, complain and have a negative attitude. Misery does love company, especially with a regional airline crew. Or I can suck it up, make the best of it, crack jokes, and biblically ‘call all my suffering joy’. I prefer the latter attitude. Attempt at a humble disclaimer: although my suffering certainly is miniscule in comparison to what other Christians have endured and will endure, I feel like I’m still in the ballpark; that what I experience is worthy of meditation on the word of God. I’ll explain more later.
Now half awake after the first cup of airplane coffee (not really but it sounds good), I nudge the thrust levers to where I know they’ll reach our targeted thrust setting. The jet pushes forward on the smooth surface as our seasoned cockpit seats slowly absorb our body weights toward rotation speed. Breaking the bonds of earth in smooth air, really smooth air, always feels like a treat. I know our plane has hydraulically powered controls and what they call ‘artificial feel mechanisms’, but the stimuli experienced in my fingertips don’t ever seem to mind.
I know what the lay of the land is like climbing out off Rochester’s runway 22. On my left shoulder, this dawning has the low orange sun and lavender-pink back lit horizon silently urging me to say “Autopilot ON” so I can fully enjoy the view. It’s too soon for the fluffy, forested black not green ‘moss’ (trees) between farm fields below us to show their true color. The deeply, God and glacier carved Finger Lakes and hills stretch out in front of us again from right to left. This time they’ve covered by cotton comforters of fog and low cloud banks, which permit them and the river valleys sleep in lazily. I’ve observed fog and cloud banks covering river valleys many times in the eastern US. I wonder what’s it’s like on the ground. Is it really a dreamscape, with all the cars stopped on the middle of the road, wild animals tame, and odd things occurring all around, time suspended and slowed down?
Back to the reality of life on the line. In the midst of suffering, joy comes. As does my corny sense of humor. This trip just kept the laughs coming. It helps when your First Officer gets your brand of humor and laughs at your jokes, though.
On with Philly approach, our first destination, they ask a mainline flight to slow down to 190 knots at a quicker pace, with urgency in the controller’s (ATC) voice. The pilot answers back “we’re in the reduction process now”. My FO and I are struck with laughter; we’ve never heard such a thing. ‘Slowing’, ‘we’re slowing’, ‘Doing our best’, and other phrases are common responses to ATC asking that you make a speed reduction ASAP, but that obtuse one is not. We thought someone was on the Food Network or working for Dow Chemical.
Later at Detroit, we got a long taxi into the gate because of taxiway and runway re-construction. That delay made us leave the gate with a new batch of passengers just in time for the ‘red tail’ push. We were certain that our takeoff runway would be ’22 Left’, right next to our terminal. These Northwest mainline and NW Airlink aircraft just kept coming toward us in line for takeoff, towards the same runway we were destined to be in line for quite a while now. “Wait for eight more red tails to pass you before you get in the conga line for runway 22 Laughed”, is what the ground controller told us in translated words. His mispronunciation of runway 22 Left as “runway 22 Laughed” struck us as with cruel irony each time he told a new aircraft to get in line. We realized he really wasn’t laughing at our predicament, but his accent made us chuckle about it. He sympathized with many us in line, and told us the wait wouldn’t be too long.
Detroit is ‘Rock City’ (for you KISS fans) in this regard. MSP (Minneapolis-St. Paul) and ORD (Chicago) style the tower made quick work of getting us and maybe two dozen more red tails off the ground, clearing each one holding in position for takeoff as the one on the runway is still hurtling toward rotation speed. Us and the red tails were given ‘vectors west, vectors east, in this line you’ll wait the least’. Detroit tower could really teach Denver, DFW (Dallas), and Washington Dulles how to spring jets in the air in quick fashion.
The previous, second day of this trip, had us surrounded for a time by Canadians in ‘Muntray-all, Kay-beck’, the Canadian French way to say Montréal, Quebec, Canada. We were treated to more aviation comedy on the ground frequency. The official language of aviation is English, but in Montreal the controllers will oblige you in French if you wish. A private aircraft was taxiing out; all we heard was gibberish from the controller or the pilot and a call sign in French with the ending ‘paw-paw, paw-paw’. That’s the English ‘phonetic’ pilots speak for the letter P, this aircraft’s calls sign ended in the letters PP. But because in the ‘states’ it’s pronounced ‘poppa’, this odd back and forth banter was like two French birds calling each other. Anyway, you had to be there.
The fourth day we started a two day trip in DC, up early again, for a quick round trip to RDU and back first. Baking in the morning Virginia sun while boarding the plane for this second Rochester overnight, we were hurrying to get out on time. Then I did something which made me ‘want to get away for a while’. I didn’t have a Snickers either, so I’d just have to slink down in my seat and sulk for a moment.
The biggest rookie thing any airline pilot can do is transmit on the wrong frequency mistakenly. And it happens, eventually, to everyone, from United to Southwest to the smallest turboprop regional, a pilot will call in range to the company on the emergency frequency, or brief the passengers to turn the seat belt sign off on center frequency. Unbeknownst to me, it was now my turn. After using my best captain’s voice I flicked the transmitter switch selection back to our number 1 communication radio from PA (Public Address), only to notice it was already on ‘comm radio 1’. With a rush I realized that I had just welcomed our peeps on board and told them about our flight on our ‘National Airport’s’ Ground frequency! Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. Fortunately I had the speaker turned off and left it off, as I’m sure many aircraft loved to chime in how ‘that was a great passenger briefing, thanks!’. After catching my breath and reclaiming some dignity, I told my FO in clear terms that I wasn’t going to talk on the radio again that afternoon. We laughed, learned, and moved on, er, flew on, rather.
So ‘when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade’. Many folks have that attitude. But as a Christian, how does this apply differently? From James (Jesus’ brother) book, James 1:1-4 (NIV): “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings. Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."
It’s illogical to most in the secular world to call enduring all kinds of trials and suffering as ‘joy’ for the intention that the God will be glorified in the life of a growing Christian believer. But that’s the gist of applying this scripture, I believe. For a more detailed and better explanation, click here.
I’ve experienced joy from the Lord during periods of great duress. Without going into details, in the midst of a great deal of emotional pain I’ve prayed to God for relief and found myself laughing with joy, knowing with a peace that things were going to be OK for me.
My Mother, or someone, a pastor or radio preacher, or maybe scripture, taught me in the past to give my trials and suffering over to God, let go of my burdens and release them to him. All I can say is that it works, the Holy Spirit works, it works inside of me and it can work inside of you.
And in the end (I’m trying to finish here) Paul’s great letter to the Romans provides a snippet of closure. We won’t suffer forever. From Romans 8:18, 8:23, and 8:28 (NLT): “18 Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later; 23 And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering; 28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”
On earth, we’re stuck with trials and suffering, but we can react to them with true joy in the Holy Spirit’s power. When trials continue to come in my life, as I’m sure they will, I hope to include God in them. Together, like with a trusted fellow Co-Pilot, the two of us will laugh too.