Budd Davisson, Plane and Pilot

Miss The Sky

"I can make it through the days. I can even eat the food. But, it's amazing how much I miss the sky."

I'd heard those words several times before. But, somehow I had missed their meaning. This time I was channel surfing, waiting for my brain to flat-line so I could finally go to sleep. My thumb hesitated on some familiar scenes: Tom Cruise was acting out lines from one of John Grisham's better books, The Firm. Cruise's character was talking to his brother through jail cell bars and his brother said those lines. In so doing he explained a solemn truth about being incarcerated. He missed the sky.

I'd seen the movie at least twice, but, for some reason, this time those lines nailed some realities to the wall making them much easier to see. Miss the sky. What a great concept. Spoken from behind bars, the words paint a vivid image of all-encompassing loss.

The sky is something the entire human race takes for granted. Yes, we often abuse it. Some portions of the population ignore it. Others, like you and me, revel in it. It's our playground. It's the extra dimension that gives our lives color and allows us to expand both our worlds and our minds.

Somewhere between those who ignore the sky and those who regularly partake of it are those who stare at it with longing. They know the sky is there. They know its possibilities. But, for some reason, they interpret those possibilities in the third person. They, them, he, she. Never me, we, I, us. In their eyes, the possibilities don't include them.

You've met plenty of people like this. They are the ones who, upon hearing you're a pilot immediately respond, "I've always wanted to fly, but...", or variously, "Oh, I don't know if I could do that, but..." and they drone on giving their excuses, explaining why they feel the sky isn't for them. In so doing, they are uncovering an absolute truth: They don't really believe the sky isn't for them or they wouldn't spend so much time explaining why it isn't. Their conversation is aimed at convincing themselves, not us.

I feel sorry for these people because so many stand back and look at pilots as if those who fly have something they don't. They imagine pilots to have skills, personalities or financial resources which are unobtainable by normal mortals. Perhaps we give them that impression as a subliminal form of self-aggrandizement. Perhaps not. Yes, we all like the spark of recognition that instantly flashes when someone in the outside world finds out we fly. But, most of us don't seek that. It just happens. It is, however, yet another dimension of the innate feeling many have that the sky is a special place. Therefore, it must be inhabited by special people. You and I know better, but we seldom, if ever correct them.

So, what IS the difference between those who fly and those who don't? Although it's tempting to say there is no difference, I'm not at all sure that's the case. One difference that comes to mind, and I hesitate to use the words, is that pilots, as a group, are greater risk takers. In the context of aviation, we don't even like to hear the phrase "risk taker" uttered out loud. However, put what we do into the greater context of the general population. Then look at the definition of "risk" many in the real world use. It would be hard to argue that putting yourself in a tiny machine that depends on gasoline and mechanical luck to defy gravity is taking a risk not many in the population consider worth while. That, however, isn't the risk-taking trait that separates those who fly from those who want to but don't.

The risk taking character trait I think most often keeps wannabee pilots on the side-lines is a certain apprehension about trying something new. What? Me fly! Oh, no! Pilots seldom show that trait. In fact, a majority of pilots came to aviation because of the exact opposite characteristic. They are constantly looking for something new and the sky beckoned. They have the attitude that, if one person can do it, I can do it. That kind of attitude leads to a full existence because they apply it to everything in life. Not many pilots list flying as their only serious endeavor. Their minds skip from interest to interest and, like as not, they keep them all going at the same time. Aviation, just happens to be the one on the top of the heap.

The opposite trait, that of looking across at something new with much hemming, hawing and lip-chewing, often keeps people from stepping across lots of barrier lines. The line between them and aviation is often one of many. Quite often that single trait, which breeds some sort of subtle, hard-to-overcome, apprehension when facing something new, erects barriers between them and many of life's more interesting adventures.

As I saw Grisham's lines being acted out, I suddenly saw the jail bars as lines. If a person continually hesitates stepping over the line between themselves and a new challenge, eventually they find those lines have become vertical. They become bars in a self-erected psychological cell.

When a person gives me negative, when they go into glowing detail as to why they can't do something, I see them speaking from behind invisible bars. They've failed to cross too many lines. They've constructed their own cell.

Fortunately, every one of those cells has a door with a lock. And the inhabitant has the key. They need only to take the first step over the line to find that simple action is the key to setting themselves free. Let enough time lapse, however, and the door rusts shut from inactivity. Then it's late. No matter how much they want to take that first step, a life time of needless apprehension keeps the door shut.

"...Miss the sky..." What a wonderful complete concept. And it explains so much. Now, aren't you glad you've crossed the line?