After many years of flying some may have noted that I have reached out to reconnect, you might say restore relationships of long past, bringing them into the now.
The reason for that is my awareness of the importance of those long lost people whom I have crossed paths with, mostly through the course of my aviation career, whom I recognize as having influenced me. They are the people and who have helped grow and define the person who I am in the now.
I recognize that so many people have made a difference in my life at some point and that has left me better for having known them, with an intense feeling of gratitude for that privilege. If you are reading this, you are probably one of those people who have made a difference. As we live within community we make a difference in the lives of others, whether we understand the significance or not is another matter. Sometimes the touch of someone in a life however briefly can be profound. A life altering experience to be sure.
The song attached “Inside This Space” was based on an experience I had while in jail! I know what you are thinking….
For a time I was part of a visitation program for a local remand center where I now live is closed. I played my guitar as part of a Salvation Army organized ministry visitation program.
My music skills were less than stellar, but I could play some chords, and some familiar songs on a guitar. I thought one day I might bring in my silver flute in to play as well as I had been taking lessons but would have to wait awhile until my flute skills improved!
Unfortunately I had stopped taking flute lessons for a time as my instructor Steve, whom I quite liked, left for an overseas sabbatical from his music teaching position in Ontario. So the guitar would have to do for now.
I had done this prison thing for a while and I was at a point where I was beginning to feel all the cons were conning me. Mostly young, virtually all said they were falsely imprisoned…. Or so they told me.
The routine was the same. Go through a series of gates, buzzed in and out, and finally arriving into room and locked in with a number of prisoners, usually about a dozen.
Most of the young prisoners stated that they appreciated the break from the routine. I was happy to play my guitar to a captive audience. My motive was to shed a little light in a very dark place where these men now inhabited.
As an airline pilot my life experience had tracked quite differently from these souls locked in here for the good of society. Pilots as rule tend to be small “C” conservative, moving within the flow of society’s mainstream.
We are as a group disciplined and generally fairly intelligent professionals. I have realized that in some way we are all locked into the confines of prisons of our own making no matter how we rank in society. Maybe a troubled marriage, maybe financial problems, maybe children who don’t seek to follow the footsteps that their loving parents have laid down for them.
Everybody has challenges. This is the nature of life. I do remember one Church pastor, Willard, who reminded me more than once that to get out of one’s own prison one must seek to help others, even if that means being a door mat, or maybe phrase commonly in use in this day, allowing one’s self to be “subjugated” in the interest of the other. Lofty ideals. Out of the cockpit/prison and into the prison/cockpit. Made perfect sense to me.
Most of the young prisoners stated that they appreciated the break from the routine. My heart broke every time I made an appearance there. All I could see was my son, or my brother, or some other parent’s son or brother incarcerated. I wondered what had their life been like that led them through the iron gates into a Hell on Earth.
What a contrast, flying high above the clouds with but a whine of freewheeling turbines, to the dark and dingy existence of clanging doors locking human beings in cages. Truly humbling, the thought “There but the Grace of God go I” echoed in my thoughts then as now.
One morning was a bit different from the others I had experienced. The procedures were the same. About a dozen men were herded into a room, about the size of an average living room with a table in the middle. As usual, I would sit at the head of the table with my back to the wall just within reach of the Emergency guard call panic button. Guards were always asked to leave. It was felt that the inmates would be more at ease without the presence of “The Man” bearing down upon them.
The men were dressed in orange jump suits and as they filed into to the room one by one, the usual glance and greeting as they entered the bricked walled room.
Just nearing the end of the line of men filing into the room I glanced again at the second last man as he entered the room, and then a bolt of recognition shot through my body. It was intense as his eyes met mine and I knew well the man whom I was locking eyes with. It was Steve (not his real name) It was my flute instructor Steve. He was a small man, a father, and a husband. He was a gentle man, far too gentle to be in here I thought.
Steve advanced towards me and as I stood up to shake his hand he reached over the table and hugged me and for the longest time would not let me go. Tears came to both of our eyes. I knew his wife and children, and I wondered what on earth landed him in here, the wrong side of the table, on the wrong side of the law.
The music part of the program went well that day and Steve and I parted with yet another lasting hug. I think that for him, a sympathetic and familiar face broke through the chains of prison for a moment that morning, for both of us. I never asked him, or discussed with anyone about his situation. It was not necessary, and a bit of the pilot ethic was at play here…. “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”. Meaning it was none of my business to educate myself about another man’s mishaps or misdeeds unless I was invited into that conversation. I would not be sharing this information with others.
That was my last time in the prison as that jail was soon closed and the inmates were relocated to a more modern facility. I never saw Steve again either. Although our paths may cross again, I will not ask him what happened, or why was he incarcerated, because if he had wanted me to know, he would have told me then.
The cockpit and cabin of an aircraft contains fallible humans. To enjoy a long career we have to learn to forgive one another, and move on. We protect each other’s interest as our lives may depend on it. We learn to appreciate each other, and if possible consider the other’s interest first. I am not really a military man, but I think that the camaraderie experienced in aviation would be similar to that of those serving on the front lines of a battlefield.
Loyalties and friendships build through the years, and sometimes decades slip by with barely a word or contact after that last flight with a colleague, but those ties that were built through life’s experiences still bind. That’s part of the aviation world as I see it. So reaching out in friendship can be done with an eye to the future, but it is worthwhile to extend a reach into the past where tested friendships may still exist.
I am a bit naïve so I have been told. Probably true. I trust, sometimes betrayed, forgive and trust again. It is my nature to seek out the good in others, even when others cannot see it in themselves. In my book, there are not unredeemable people, only human beings. Loyalty with friends, true friends, is important. Prisoners and aviators have a lot in common if you can see between the lines, across the shadows cast by the bars that separate us in the light of a prison…
Inside This Space
I think I hear your voice
Inside of my head
I thought that I Iost you,
I thought I was dead
But I cannot bare
To seek your face I cannot bare
for you to see you to inside this place
But I still want you
Because I still need you I still love you
And Ican’tlive without you(2x)
within these walls made of stone.
My heart aches
For the ones left at home
Dead in it’s pain
Dead in this shame
Could we lift off this shroud
Will a day ever come
That I leave this place
Will freedom arrive
But I still want you
Because I still need you I still love you
And I can’t live without you(2x)