Thursday, October 2, 2008

Skipper Lite

adj. Slang
Having less substance or weight or fewer calories than something else: "lite music, shimmering on the surface and squishy soft at the core" (Mother Jones).

Someone should look into the mysterious law of physics that accounts for the fact that, any desk, anywhere, left unattended for more than 60 seconds, will attract pieces of paper at a rate that seems to defy the 2ed law of thermodynamics. I was away from one of my desks for a couple of days of flying people around so, sure enough, I had to spend today sorting, reading, initialing and forwarding various bits to various places. (Some only had to go as far as the wastebasket at my feet. I expect to get an edict someday requiring me to initial those ones as well, just to verify that I have the authority to give me permission to throw them away.)

Anyway, (and to get to the title of this little piece) during the day I had a short conversation with my boss. He is pretty high up in our organization with a desk full of real problems to deal with. Like many who work at that stratospheric level his problems seem to grow more complex and intractable with each passing day. As it turns out one of my problems, trying to keep the airplane in the sky while finishing up what has grown into the avionics refit from hell, had intersected with one of his problems, just trying to keep the airplane. He assured me that he had prevailed and that I need not update my resume. (Don’t tell anyone, but like every pilot I know my resume is always up to date.) But now would not be a good time for another extended visit to the shop.

So it came to pass that as I was riding home this afternoon (the long way around, explanation in a moment) I was mulling over the realization once again that there are people completely unknown to me and without a care of me at all, who making decisions that could have a direct and immediate impact on my very next day, or even what remains of this one. It was a stark reminder that I am just “Skipper Lite” when it comes to my own life. The reminder was reinforced when I got to the Rt 170 South on ramp...which was blocked by police cars and flashing lights. It seems someone judged important by someone else was going to some kind of debate at Wash U to be held later this evening. This person’s need to move down the road superseded that of hundreds of others judged much less important. (Really, I know about the VP debate but I am ignoring this latest orgy of election showmanship as much as possible. And that is all I intend to say about politics on this blog!)

I know there are conflicting and overwhelming forces that constrain and set the limits on all of our lives…but I hate being “Skipper Lite.” I hate the idea that the rub line of my day is drawn at the whim of others, that I can helm only a few degrees off the wind or up. Someone else can throw the anchor anytime they like bringing me to a dead stop in the water, or punch a hole in the hull and have me scrambling for a safe harbor where none show on the charts.

As I have said before that is one of the things I love about being in the sky. With the wheels in the wells, the air passing by a 500 + mph, 8 miles high in a sky full of weather, the Pilot in Command is just that. The outcome of the flight depends almost entirely on his or her decisions, skills and insights. The beauty of high altitude flight, the storms and the stars and the sunsets and the clouds; the new places and the perfect landings; the elation of the rush down the runway for the day’s initial departure and the magic of that very first foot of altitude; as wonderful as it all is, it turns out these are not the things that draw me back to the cockpit time after time.

And so I have discovered the lure of living on a boat. It isn’t just the beauty of the water, the rush of the wind in the sails, the sound of the rigging, the new places to see and the new things to learn. It turns out sails really are like wings. When each is filled with the wind “Skipper Lite” is forced to stay behind. Once the land recedes (below or behind it does not matter) then a person can be responsible for the journey. The directions ours to figure out, the starts and stops ours to chose.

For some maybe, none of this matters at all. Maybe for most. For others it is all that matters. I guess I am one of the "others."

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