update: we have a guest post up today over at the frugal cottage. nicola is hosting a guest series while she’s home taking care of her brand new baby. check it out: living simply equals living by design.
sometimes, life forces us to sit up and pay attention. we recently had one of those experiences in a big way, on what would have seemed to be an ordinary flight for work. if you follow us on twitter, you may have seen a photo we posted the other day:
turns out this was the very last flight for a pilot of 44 years. (and yes, it did sound ominous when he told us all, “this is my last flight.” ;-) but then he quickly said that his whole family was on board to celebrate the occasion, including his one-year-old grandson, and that took away any doubt about what he might have meant!) the flight attendants had decorated the cabin with “happy retirement” decorations, and even handed out “happy retirement” candy when they did the drink service. it was really touching.
of course retirement is something we think about every day, so this experience of being on a pilot’s last flight was more meaningful than it would have been if retirement was just some abstract concept we weren’t thinking about for 30 years. but really, the retirement context was just the thing that said, “pay attention on this flight. don’t tune out in your work or book and miss what’s going on here.”
because it was the pilot’s last flight, he talked on the mic more than pilots usually do. he told us about how his wife of 40 years was on the flight, and how they met when she was a flight attendant. so classic. he told us about his daughter and grandson. he told us he’d try his best to give us a smooth landing. and then he started telling us about the crew.
as luck would have it, his crew of flight attendants — or flight partners, as united now calls them — were a crew he’d flown with a lot. their mutual affection was super evident. he told us about the two male flight attendants, and how long they’d been flying (more than 30 years each — they didn’t look that old!). and then he mentioned, almost casually, how the woman flight attendant had been on united 232 which, in his words, had an “unscheduled landing in sioux falls in 1989.”
ours is a house of airplane geeks, so the light bulb immediately went off. but assuming you’re not as geekily versed in airline disasters as we are, suffice to say, it was a major disaster. a lot of people died. you can read a good account of it here, though fair warning that it will ruin your day. short version: a fan blade broke, cutting the plane’s hydraulic lines mid-flight, meaning that the pilots could barely control the plane. they made an emergency landing in sioux falls, clipped a wing while landing, and then the plane tumbled. 100+ died, but 185 people lived. it was considered a major act of heroism by the pilots and flight crew to save as many people as they did.
but back to this flight attendant. judging by how old she didn’t look, she must have been very young back in 1989. and those drawn to fly seem to have an adventurous spirit. in fact, they seem to have a lot in common with those of us pursuing early retirement — forsaking a “traditional” career path for a life of travel and adventure. but even if she was young and felt invincible, that day back in 1989 must have been the worst day of her life. going through something like that must throw everything into sharp relief, and force some major reevaluations. at the very least, it must make the idea of flying again scarier than it was previously.
any person in the world who went through something like that would be completely forgiven for changing their path in life after such a tragedy. even for never flying again. but this flight attendant didn’t. after her injuries healed, she went right back to work. she didn’t let fear paralyze her, or dictate her life choices. in fact, all of the pilots involved in the crash went back to work after they healed, too.
the phrase “mind-blowing” is overused these days, but this was truly one of those rare moments for us. a person who went through something that is the worst fear for many of us, and then she got right back to doing what put her in that position in the first place. wow.
and here she was, all those years later, still serving beverages with a smile, even to disgruntled and tired passengers. just as she didn’t let fear dictate her life, she also stayed humble and continues to serve the public 26 years later. what an incredible reminder not to judge a book by its cover — or, more accurately, that anyone you meet might have the most incredible story. that someone who seems to have a menial job may in fact be an amazing role model for courage and spirit. i would never have known any of this about the flight attendant if the retiring captain hadn’t been in such a chatty mood.
i wanted desperately to ask her a million questions, but it seemed insensitive to ask about such a horrific day on what was clearly a joyous occasion. but even without talking to her, the lesson was clear: don’t let fear keep you from doing what you dream of doing. don’t let some past trauma dictate your life choices. keep doing your thing, even if you face setbacks along the way.
on the way off the plane, both the captain and the flight attendant were standing near the door. i shook the captain’s hand, thanked and congratulated him, and said to the flight attendant, “you’re an inspiration. thank you.” and then i walked off the plane, thankful to have fallen by chance into this confluence of events that made me tune in and listen up. i’ve never been so glad to be smacked across the face by an important life lesson.
have you had any recent moments when life has practically shouted lessons at you? do you think you could go back to flying after something like that? not sure we could!
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