Basic Rules of Flying –My Messy Beautiful

Apr 6 2014

We sat at the wedding, my husband and I, paying sporadic attention to the ceremony while my folding chair rested catawampus on the grass, one leg oozing into the soft earth, threatening to collapse and dump me like Bambi on the ice. I played with the pop-up veins on the back of Greg’s hand while I leaned into his side to keep myself steady, waiting for his response to my comment, ill-advised and ill-timed.

“You’re not serious,” Greg said just a little too loudly over the strains of the violin.

I was serious.

I wanted another baby.

“You can’t be serious,” Greg said, and I knew why.

Our family plate was already full to overflowing with the three kids we had by way of adoption, two with special needs. Add our recently resurrected marriage, my history of unsuccessful pregnancies, and an iron-clad agreement forged in the fires of Small Child Hell to have absolutely No More Kids lest we abandon them all and run shrieking to Mexico with its long, blissful beaches and blessed, mind-numbing tequila, and I didn’t blame Greg for his alarm.

Marital and young kid aftershocks still hit us from time to time, and our emotional footing was occasionally unsteady as we warily watched our home and each other for fissures or cracks.

But we were mostly safe. Mostly stable. Mostly sure of our foundation. And, since mostly is as good a guarantee as any in this life, I was ready to roll the dice. Ready to play big. Ready to gamble that we wouldn’t burst if we stretched ourselves again to add one more new person to our mix.

I admit I tend to jump before looking for a place to land. Whereas Greg’s a thinker. A processor. A long-term contemplator. He needs some solid lead-time to get out ahead of an idea, watch it from all angles, probe it for weak spots, make mathematical projections, test its speed and velocity, and analyze for theological implications. All that before deciding, “probably not.” Playing Scrabble with him is a total nightmare.

A wise woman and a thoughtful wife doesn’t just spring the idea of Kid Number 4 on a guy like that. I knew he needed time. I knew he needed reassurance. I knew he needed to amortize the cost of our potential, future dairy liability. Nevertheless, I needed to grow a baby, and, wedding processional or no, I was at that moment incapable of keeping it to myself.

Are you serious?” Greg asked, this time a question that needed an answer.

“Yes,” I whispered, although my throat caught on the s.

My chair was sinking fast. My heart was sinking faster. I knew when I blurted it out that it was a mistake. I’d approached it all wrong, like ten years of marriage, three years of therapy and seven years of kids had taught me nothing about the man sitting next to me.

I froze. Utterly still. Already trying in my heart to forgive Greg for crushing this one-more-baby dream. Trying to put myself in his shoes. Trying to shove the hurt of his imminent, incredulous guffaw deep, deep down. Already working internally to raise my heart’s defenses so I could find my breath and a way forward without damaging either of us.

“OK,” Greg whispered back.

That’s all.

No wondering or wandering. Just “OK” whispered in the summer sun with no roof overhead to capture it while it floated up into the sky.

“OK?” 

“OK,” he said, eyes straight ahead like mine, watching the wedding and not seeing it at all.

“Like, ‘OK OK?’  Or, ‘OK, I heard you?’”

I wasn’t sure yet that I understood, and it was suddenly, desperately important that I be sure.

“OK OK,” Greg said, and he squeezed my hand too hard.

“OK,” I said.

I extracted my hand and picked up my chair, moving it just off-kilter to find firmer ground which is, after all, where firmer ground is usually found.

OK OK; my whole world inside one word, repeated.

One more baby if we could manage to make one. One more little person in our house. Just one more to make a grand total of four kids, all of them our very own, and the maximum we could possibly handle.

Fifteen months later, our twins were born.

……….

Dad5I’m the daughter of a pilot.

My dad’s flying career was varied, perhaps messy, as a Marine pilot, then a missionary jungle pilot, then an airline pilot, but my parents taught me by example to follow my heart, even when it leads into the wilderness with no clear exit strategy. There, struggling in the jungles of our own making, we find ourselves. And if ever there was a jungle I created, a wilderness to try my strength and reveal my failings, becoming a mother was it.

My dad’s love of flying taught me some practical lessons. 

Dad’s Basic Rules of Flying:

  1. Try to stay in the middle of the air.
  2. Do not run past the edges of it.
  3. The edges of the air can be recognized as ground, sea, and interstellar space.

As Dad likes to say, bad things can happen past the edges of the air.

Now it seems to me that Dad’s Basic Flying Rules are a lot like the basic rules of life.

Against all odds, and despite the fact that we hurtle along in figurative tin cans, held aloft by invisible forces our physics and Sunday School teachers insist are real, we work very hard to stay, somehow, in the middle of life and not go too near the edges. We know, those of us who’ve lived at the margins, pushing ourselves, our friends, our marriages, and our kids too far – or being pushed there without our consent – that bad things can happen when we run out of air. We know, because we’ve seen the crashes and dealt with the aftermath and picked up the pieces and somehow figured out how to launch ourselves again, hoping, this time, we’ll stay where we need to be.

But.

Oh, but.

But the takeoffs and the landings, right? The takeoffs and the landings of life happen always, necessarily right there at the edges. From the ground and back to it, all the new chapters in life must be launched or concluded.

Some landings are perfect, and they touch on artistry, so seemingly effortless and light.

Some landings are bumpy and leave us breathless with fear, exhilaration, and a tiny bit of whiplash.

Some landings crash and burn. And the takeoffs can, too.

Every airliner crossing an ocean has a Critical Point, or perhaps several, written into the flight plan, and every bush pilot has what we laymen call a Point of No Return beyond which he is committed to a course of action, because there are places in the jungle where there are no do-overs. No go-arounds. No chances to execute a touch-and-go or to get it right the second time.

In the jungle, with air strips carved crookedly into the sides of mountains or sitting precariously at the edges of cliffs, the pilot’s choices past the Point of No Return become land or crash.

Soar or plunge.

Do or die.

That’s all.

……….

Becoming a parent is like jungle flying. There’s preparation. There’s planning. There’s checking equipment. There’s second-guessing and am-I-crazying? And then there’s actually launching.

Straight out. Straight up. Holding fast to courage and stupidity in equal measure and taking off into the unknown. Hoping to stay in the middle of the air. Praying bad things don’t happen past the edges.

This is the most exhilarating thing I’ve ever done. This is incredible. This is awful. I am going to die. I just shit my pants.

And there comes a time when we blow past all the Critical Points and wave adios to the Points of No Return. When we’re committed. Locked in. Engaged. And the only path left is to fly through to our destination and hope – dear God — we don’t crash.

That’s when we find ourselves focused on the flight. Determined. Because passing the Points of No Return causes all our training, all our knowledge, and all our strength to come to bear, even if we fear our training, knowledge and strength are woefully inadequate. Everything we’ve learned becomes distilled. Our purpose becomes survival. There is simply no room for anything else.

We have to do or die, and rely on our Jedi training. Like Yoda said, “Do or do not. There is no try.”

………

I didn’t know once upon a time, like I know now, that the advent of each kid meant more than just one Point of No Return. Or that passing the Critical Points, over and over, would come with the extraordinary blessing of release. Of letting go.

As the days and weeks and years passed, I began to realize – and name – which extraneous things didn’t matter anymore. I was, frankly, willing to sacrifice all my former expectations to make our survival possible, and, perhaps, to win us a way to thrive. Everything I thought I knew about pursuing a worthwhile, fulfilling life was up for grabs, and nothing was too small for critical examination. If it might make my flight fail, if it might make us crash, I tossed it, and I was surprised at what landed on the jungle floor.

I learned in that place of letting go what wiser, more joyful mamas already knew in their bones: I learned when we redefine perfection, happiness, control, wholeness, and balance – when we embrace our flaws, discover grace, and enter the wild – we find, somehow, a path to the illusive Village where there’s beauty in the broken and dancing to the rhythm of life.

And that, it turns out, is what this story – this life – is all about.

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……….

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This post is part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project, a blog link-up for the paperback release of New York Times Bestselling memoir, Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life by Glennon Melton of Momastery.

Glennon said to write a “short essay.” I’m very, very bad at following directions.
It’s not you, Glennon; it’s me.

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