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Life Happens

The vibration from the wheels suddenly stopped and I felt the unmistakable sensation of breaking contact with the ground. It was good to be back in the air—but seat 58G on a 747 is a far cry from the front-row seat I'm used to. OK, I'm spoiled.

Six months. That's how long it's been since I've flown. That's far and away the longest hiatus I've had from flying since my very first lesson. Flying has become such a central experience in my life, and being a pilot such a defining aspect of my identity, that it's been downright disorienting to be ground-bound for so long.

Of course, I also realize that I'm doubly spoiled for living in California, where we get to fly pretty much all year round. In many parts of the country, it's normal for pilots to be grounded for months at a stretch during the Winter. And many pilots I know have gone through periods when tight finances, work, or family demands have kept them out of the air for years. Life happens.

And yet somehow, these pilots managed to endure these periods, get themselves back in the air, regain their skills, and resume flying safely and well, all without undue trauma or debilitating existential angst. I'm realizing that perhaps I've been a bit glib, or at least unrealistic, when writing in this blog about maintaining proficiency in the cockpit. Sometimes, it's really hard.

I confess to feeling a range of difficult emotions as I think about my long hiatus. By turns, I've felt regret, longing, embarrassment, fear, and even shame as an essential part of my identity seems to be slipping away. Of course, intellectually I know that nothing so melodramatic is happening, and I also know it's critically important not to give up, but to do whatever it takes to get back to what drives me—to get myself back in the air.

Besides, I think I tend to ascribe way too much significance to a situation that really has none. The fact that I haven't flown for months doesn't mean I've lost my motivation or my passion, or that I'll never fly again or as well as I once did. In fact, the only thing it means is that I haven't flown for months! As I've said many times in the blog, I mustn't take my experiences personally. They don't mean anything about me—they're just what's happening.

At my flying club's last meeting, I spoke with my instructor and fellow club member Debby about scheduling some dual with her. That should happen in the next month, and we'll review aeronautical knowledge, procedures, and maneuvers until we're both satisfied with my performance. It might take a few lessons, but it'll happen—and it will be flying!

Finally, over nine sleepless hours after slipping the surly bonds of Earth at Narita, I felt the wheels rolling again, with nary a bump, on the long runway at San Francisco.

"Sweet!" I thought to myself. "I remember what this is like!"

Nice work, Captain—and thanks for the taste of flight.

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