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Life Lessons: What I Learned from a P-51 Mustang Pilot
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Grateful for Exceptional Experiences
My friend Claude flew in from Alabama several months ago in his P51 Mustang, quite the event at our local airport. P51 Mustangs are rare and exciting, and those who are fortunate enough to have that experience, usually don't get to be up close and personal. For me it is so important to seize those opportunities, and learn something new along the way. Claude is a hero to me, a survivor who was injured in a terrible blast, had his body put together after suffering severe burns and limb repairs, and has an amazing faith in God, and his attitude soars sometimes higher than his P-51 Mustang. He has a gift of encouraging others in spite of what he has been through, and quite frankly, I want to live like that.
After winding my way down several dirt roads, I finally arrived at the small airport where he was meeting us. We weren't exactly sure when he would be arriving, but were more than willing to wait patiently. While we were waiting with his flying buddies, one of the guys made a comment that the plane should be arriving any minute since the weather was, as he put it, "dead calm". Quickly, one of retired Air Force pilots corrected him as the others chimed in, "Never say dead calm, buddy, in our vernacular, it's perfectly calm". After some thought I figured the one thing pilots were superstitious about was phrasing their vocabulary positively, since dying while flying is always a risk. We can all be schooled by the professionals, and I never heard him say that phrase again. This phrase is now permanently etched in my brain as "what not to say when you are around pilots".
Shortly after the comment, I could hear the P51 engine overhead and was the first to spot the plane approaching the airport. I love that sound! Claude taxied in with his usual huge grin on as I captured him on film. When he saw how narrow the taxiway was the smile got even bigger. His plane was a little tricky to maneuver to the hangar, but as always, he made the best of it and parked perfectly outside so the guys could mill around and enjoy the moment.
He insisted I get in to see how it felt, and then offered a ride, the thrill of a lifetime. He commented that his seat was a parachute, not really comfortable, but in war times, necessary. I imagined that as they climbed higher they didn't concern themselves with what any one on the ground was doing. It was a slice of heaven, two friends having a few moments of pilot-bonding coupled with sheer adrenalin rush.
The experience was a reminder to me that every day I need to make room for special times and reorder my priorities to what is important: living life on the highest plane.
I found that waiting for the arrival created a greater desire to fly myself, to overcome my fears, and to challenge myself to be really grateful for the special moments in life. Each day holds new experiences, for which we can be grateful.
Just like Claude, sometimes hardship helps us appreciate life in a whole new way. Claude once shared his story at great length with me, including his battle to survive, after losing everything. We can also free ourselves to imagine, anticipate, enjoy, and experience every season we have! Life is not static, soas we adjust our attitude, I believe we increase our altitude in life.
Here are a few practical suggestions to achieving great joy:
1) Make a list first thing in the morning of everything you are grateful for, while you are sipping your first morning coffee. Pause and think about those things before you jump into your day.
2) Think about what you would change if you could, and then take a step in that direction no matter how uncomfortable you might feel. Forward progress builds momentum.
3) Before you go to bed at night, work on your "To Do" list for the next day, and right down at least 5 things so they are off your mind. While you sleep, your mind will process those things with no effort.
4) Notice during the next day, the many ways life begins ordering itself around the things that really matter, and your thoughts will be drawn to what is right and good in your world.
5) Go back to #1 and follow through the list anytime, you feel negative or pessimistic. Hopefully, you will have more to think about that you are grateful for.
Once you begin do this regularly, it will start becoming a habit and you will find your life mostly in balance, and the "To Do" list accomplished quickly with very little effort on your part.
Then you, too, will be less apt to worry about things on the ground and instead let your heart be set on things above like the pilot of a P51. Enjoy life, really live in the moment, and from time to time you too, may experience perfect calm!