Beau June 17th, 2010
Do you ever wonder what that other road might look like? You know, the one not taken? Or maybe it’s a few different roads. Most of us have thought a time or two about what our life would be like if … or, maybe… or I wonder what would have happened…
Then again, perhaps it’s just me. You see I’m very thankful for my life and where I am. Of course I’m human too and can always see where things need improvement, or changed or let go. But I’ve been very fortunate in life. I’ve had the chance to realize several dreams, and to explore avenues of my own growth and throughout the world that I could only imagine as a child. And still, I remember making many choices along the way that could have led to a far different life. Bear with me… I’ll probably reflect on a few of those choices now and then.
Some of those choices meant that I lived, where I might have died only moments before. Sometimes it wasn’t even a choice, but that I found out later that I was lucky. And still other actions that meant someone else lived where they may not have.
I remember working as a lifeguard in my youth for many seasons and at school. It wasn’t glamorous or exciting at all. Just hours spent patiently sitting and watching and pondering. And cleaning bathrooms, or coaching or cleaning the pool.
And yet one moment a father jumps in the pool for a quick swim, and his toddler jumps in after him, sinking to the bottom, while he swims away. I make a quick dive in the pool and the toddler is sputtering on the side, and moments later the father’s eyes are wide at comprehending what happened. Something simple, yet profound. And we keep on…
Yet I have seen far too many instances of the vagaries of life and death to think that anyone has a lock on guaranteeing some aspect of our lives. I remember an aircraft getting ready to launch off the carrier, after I walked in the ready room after a flight, still high on the adrenalin of the experience. The ship was pulling into port a day later, and it was one of the last aircraft sorties for the day. The crew’s excitement after months in the Middle East was tangible. We didn’t have to fly that day, but it was a press for some milestone or another.
The aircraft launched… but something was wrong. It should have been faster, but the catapult malfunctioned and the aircraft didn’t have enough speed to fly, yet was going too fast to stop. The aircraft carried four crewmembers- two naval aviators (pilot/copilot) a naval flight officer and a mission technician… just aviators in navy parlance. I was staring at the closed-circuit television in the ready room as I watched the ejection seats come out of the aircraft as it went over the angle deck in front of the carrier.
The carrier was steaming at 26 knots… Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! I heard above me in rapid succession… our ready room was a few decks right below. Except that only one seat kind of went up. The aircraft had pitched rapidly down and over the deck as the other seats were firing. They went sideways, and down. It just happens too quickly. And in a matter of seconds, three aviators are dead, and one left alive. They picked him up with the helicopter, unconscious, found one other body and two were just gone.
It was a staggering moment, not only because I was a witness to the tragedy (I was growing numb to such events…), but it was just the stark contrast to everything that was happening up to that very moment. What had been an incredibly lively atmosphere was shattered by the realization that several of our shipmates were dead. Two of the three officer’s wives had already flown half-way across the world and were waiting to meet them the next day. It was hard to comprehend. The memorial at sea was four days later, after the port visit, and we were back flying again and heading towards home across the Pacific.
And life went on. The moment shaped me however. I didn’t know why it happened, or how it happened, but I knew they would find out. And I knew I wanted to learn about how to prevent things like that from happening. I chose a path that took me along that way. And I continued to learn that our choices do impact the experiences we will have in our lives.
I know many folks believe the Almighty has a plan- some that God has predestined our lives, or that a specific “plan” directs our lives. Perhaps so. Sometimes I have doubts about my relationship with Christ in understanding the path ahead, and I wonder if there is such a plan. More often, I have believed that God sets things in motion for us, provides opportunities… and we have the freedom and privilege- even the responsibility- to make choices along the way in directing our lives… for better or worse. And yet I believe “things” do happen for a reason… is that part of God’s plan? Do I really “listen” or seek His guidance when I have so many questions? Perhaps not enough- as one brought up to embrace individuality and “self-reliance” I usually jump at challenges and try to handle most things on my own. I must admit that I even forget that He is there at times.
I know I don’t have all the answers… so why do we so often search for them in all the wrong places?! And then I learn, time and again, that there is little in our lives that we do “on our own.” Lots of discussion there for an age old debate.
I remember seeing something the other night… a young girl asked her father, “If we’re all supposed to go to heaven anyway, then why does God put us here first?” Her father didn’t have an answer. Some say to learn faith. Or as a test. Or maybe to fulfill a purpose. To grow, to serve. And maybe to learn to Love.
Regardless of the reasons for our existence, or God’s plan for our lives, I believe we can influence the direction and the nature of our experience. More than that really… that it is vital to really embrace life. Is that hubris? Lack of trust or belief? For me, I think of our choices as the paths we can take throughout our lives. Sometimes we walk in the light, and it’s easy and free. Sometimes we’re stuck on one path for a very long time, in the shadows of life… Sometimes the path is cut short, or we take an unplanned detour for reasons that have nothing to do with us.
Do we just throw our hands up, sit down on the side of the road and quit walking? Yeah, sometimes we do.
But maybe we learn to get up again, and keep slogging along looking for things that validate the context and experience we seek while making new choices along the way.
It doesn’t guarantee anything. That catapult malfunction was because of equipment failure. Whereas most accidents involved a human in the chain of events, sometimes things just happen, things just break. After an accident like that, they replace, redesign and inspect more aggressively with similar parts all across the world to help prevent the same thing from happening again. They still happened, but we could learn from them. Learning from the mistakes of others, or how to better design or improve something also involved choices.
No matter what we do, we still face challenges. We still make mistakes, we still make choices… and we get to try again. We are really pretty fortunate to be able to do just that. Those choices are going to take us somewhere. I figure it might as well be somewhere we’d like to go.