by Budd Davisson

A Light at the End

Isn't it neat the way the human mind works? You'll be sitting there doing something intense and suddenly, for no apparent reason, some subconscious part of your mind will whip a bright yellow flag up in left field forcing you to change focus and examine some extraneous thought that has nothing to do with anything.

Everyone has mental flickers like that and some folks ignore them. I don't. When a random thought pops up, I swivel my mental eyes and take a close look at it because it often teaches me something or solves a problem I didn't even know I'd been thinking about. I had one of those instant flashes of understanding a few minutes ago here at 35,000 feet in tourist class.

For no apparent reason, my mind decided to tell me that there is no light at the end of the tunnel and there isn't supposed to be. There is just the tunnel.

On the surface that appears to be black, defeatist thinking, but it's not. So many of us visualize ourselves as being stuck in a tunnel looking for the light. The reality is that we may be looking at the tunnel in the wrong way.

Too many of us rip through life looking far down the road in anticipation of the light at the end of our personal tunnel. We seem to think that, if we keep running hard enough, we will break free into a light-filled, green Shangri-La where everything is hunky-dory and toil is forbidden. But, there's a problem with that kind of thinking. The instant you pop out of the tunnel, The Journey is over. The destination has been reached. Then what?

Although different folks see destinations in different ways, for many of us, arriving isn't nearly as much fun as the process of getting there. The joy is in the journey. And the journey is the tunnel.

Some of us have a intuitive understanding that we'd better enjoy the trip because our tunnel may be shorter than we think and that mythical light may never glide into sight.

I found these thoughts cavorting around my brain, as California drifted by below, because recently my mother-in-law, my friend, saw the light at the end of her tunnel suddenly go dim and drift far away. Her quality of life was instantly redefined by a minuscule clot in a cranial artery. It also redefined the life belonging to The Redhead and me and forced us to re-examine our priorities.

Like most people, I sometimes find myself head down, pushing hard while muttering obscenities that I'm never going get ahead, that any light I see will be a train coming, etc., etc., ad selfpitium. At the moment the realization hit me that there may be no light lingering out there, I was grinding to the end of another 17 hour day. The second one that week. And I was pooped. But not tired. Not emotionally anyway. The body was dragging but the spirit was still very much alive. As I thought about my mother-in-law and my own daily pursuit of the hopefully rewarding light, I glanced around at my tunnel and had to smile. It hit me that there didn't need to be an exotic, green haven out there beyond the light because there wasn't a damn thing wrong with where I was at that exact moment in my life. I re-examined my supposedly hard day and realized my own personal tunnel was actually pretty neat.

In the office at 0430. Three or four hours typing tales about old liaison airplanes I have known and loved. An hour in the front seat of the Pitts trying to teach anti-gravitational concepts to a student. Dash to catch a Las Vegas-bound 737. A couple of hours stuffed in the baggage compartment of a C-210, camera in hand, while a wonderfully historic Mustang danced on our wing tip. Several hours interviewing two aviation over-achievers then back into the Boeing people-hauler for the flight home. A long day? Absolutely! A day in which I wondered if the light was ever going to appear at the end of the tunnel? No way! It never crossed my mind. I was too busy enjoying what I was doing.

We often forget that when you're doing something you love, why expect something better? Those of us who make our living in aviation and those who invest their emotions in it on even a part time basis, can count ourselves among the incredibly fortunate few. Aviation is a dream many of us have cherished almost since birth and the fact we're actually living that dream should be enough.

As we blast through the tunnel that is life, we don't have to look very hard to realize our tunnel isn't dark and dreary like so many others. Thanks to aviation, it's light and lush and emotionally satisfying. So, who needs a light at the end of the tunnel? We've already found it. BD