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Life Lessons: What I Learned from a P-51 Mustang Pilot
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Gratitude produces Optimism
My friend Claude flew in from Alabama for a surprise visit several months ago in his fully restored P51 Mustang. It was quite the event at our local airport, since these planes are so rare, but well-known for the part they played in the wars. P51 Mustangs are and exciting to fly, and those who are fortunate enough to have that experience, usually don't get to be so up close and personal. Climbing into the plane and just sitting and imagining where that plane has been and what battles it had seen, was a wonderful privilege.
For me it is so important to seize those opportunities, and learn something new along the way about a time and culture that is so far removed from my personal history. I have always had the highest regard for those who served in the military, like my uncles Norman and Russ, who landed on the beaches in Normandy.
Claude is a different kind of 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. I find him inspiring, and his attitude soars in the spiritual arena, 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 to our local small airport, I finally arrived where he was meeting us. We offered our hangar as a temporary home during his visit, and wanted to be there early to see him land. We weren't exactly sure when he would be arriving, but were more than willing to wait patiently for his safety.
While we were waiting with his flying buddies, my inexperienced student pilot husband 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". You see, I can learn something new every day without trying!
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 carefully on the narrow runway and as I captured him on camera, I saw his usual huge grin. When he suddenly saw the taxiway was even more narrow, the smile got even bigger. It 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 immediately lifted me up to the wing to climb inside the cockpit. I took my time in there, relishing the moment.
He insisted I get in to see how it felt, and then offered my husband 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 adrenaline rush.
The experience was a spiritual reminder to me that every day I need to make room for interruptions that turn into special times and reorder my priorities to what is important: living life on the highest "plane".
I also 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 that we overcome 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. Verbalize those things to the God who created you and then share them with others so you remember how far He has brought you in life.
2) Think about what you would change about yourself or your life if you could, and then take a step in that direction no matter how uncomfortable you might feel. Forward progress builds momentum, and achievements coupled with obstacles overcome will become both memorials and stepping stones to greater growth and disovery.
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 you want to accomplished so they are off your mind so you can rest. While you sleep, your mind will process those things with no effort. I have noticed that often, the things that I was worrying about actually are accomplished supernaturally by God's grace.
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. You will have time to encourage and applaud achievements and success of others because you are less consumed with yourself.
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. Your life will also begin to take on an optimistic "flight pattern" making you a joy to be around, just like Claude.
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.
Now get busy and enjoy life, really live in the moment, and from time to time you too, may experience perfect calm while you soar to new heights!