I could not have been older than five; my parents divorced right around that time; however, I do remember that for Christmas, or maybe even my dad’s birthday, she gave him a huge box filled with Styrofoam peanuts and perhaps even balled up newspaper. At the bottom was paperwork for flight school. My dad was going to become a pilot. The timeline is a bit blurry to me, but I can tell you with certainty, precisely what happened on one of our first, maybe even our first, flight with my dad and it ended with my twin sister getting sick sitting next to me.
By this time, my father had sole custody of my three sisters and me. To support us, he was a business owner, a manufacturer’s product representative, with a territory that spanned states in the Midwest, which meant a lot of time on the road. With a pilot license and the means to finance a 4-seater plane, dad was able to turn overnighters into day trips and fly us all to see our extended family in Minnesota more often than when the only option was an eight-hour drive in a conversion van. If you’ve never flown in a small plane, you can’t imagine how loud it is. Looking back, I’m quite sure he preferred the deafening and constant humming from the engines over the four of us asking over and over, “are we there yet?” and fighting over who got to sit in front and control the radio dial.
Over the years, my dad’s planes served as giant windows to new worlds for us. Once he upgraded to his beloved Cherokee 3378W (Whisky) six-seater, on the occasional Sunday, we’d pile in, and he’d fly us to Lake Geneva for brunch at a resort that had an airstrip. Later, during our teen years, he had invested in a small private pilots’ island (Crooked Island, maybe you’ve heard of it) and we would fly from Schaumburg, Illinois to Chattanooga, Tennessee, and then on to Florida before we’d go the distance over the open waters until we reached the island. One runway, no room whatsoever for error. My dad was instrument rated and he was skilled pilot. Over the years, we had some pretty harrowing, faith-building, courage-making experiences.
I didn’t know it then, but the time I spent flying with my dad, who by the way walked away virtually unscathed, from two crashes, has served me well as I study, teach, and continue learning about the principles of High-Reliability Organizations or HRO in healthcare.
Today, I spend a lot of time in the air, logging over a half-million miles in just the past 10-12 years. Karl has gone beyond the million-mile club, and when we’re not traveling for work, we’re traveling for adventure.
Meeting new people, learning about cultures that differ from where I grew up, experiencing the sights, sounds and smells of the communities, villages, and towns I visit while taking in their history, is indeed one of my greatest life pleasures. I consider it both a gift and a blessing to travel for my work in rural communities. The images and depictions you often see in media don’t paint an accurate picture of life living in more remote places. I believe, that for our country to begin moving beyond the polarizing place we find ourselves in, we must be open to learning about, appreciating, and respecting our neighbors to the east, west, north, and south of our borders.
Next time you find yourself at 30,000 feet up in the air, in close quarters with 50, 100, or 500 other passengers, think about this. Every person has a place they want or need to be, and you will all arrive together no matter your seat or your view. If only for a few hours, what you have in common is that you are all heading in the same direction.
In every relationship in your life, be it with family, friends, or in the workplace. Check your baggage. Does it fit comfortably under your seat? Will you make sure it fits in the overhead compartment? I live by the principle that my baggage is not the responsibility of others to carry.
Finally, selfies are certainly fun; however, turning the lens to focus on the world around you can be an eye-opening experience.