Monday, February 3, 2014

Live Like a Fighter Pilot

"Pick up room eighteen from ultrasound". I'm the nurse in rooms 5-8 but nothing crazy is going on and knowing that the other nurse is tied up with a sick patient, I slip over to ultrasound to grab the patient. As I approach the elderly gentleman in the wheelchair, he hugs the piles of blankets closer and greets me with a wry smile and a sparkle in his crisp blue eyes. "Well, hello there little lady!" I introduce myself and begin wheeling him back to his room. With wheelchair parked at the bedside, we begin to unload the piles of blankets. Underneath the mound I discover a thin, elderly gentleman dressed in a suit. The collared shirt is yellowing and aged and the tie reveals it's age with faded wings. I complement his efforts at dressing himself so formally for a late-night ER trip. He points at the wings on his tie. "Do you know what those are, little lady??" I respond in the negative. He replies, "They are US Naval wings representing my time as a fighter pilot in the Navy." 

Actual photos from the Gentleman. No name is given and no photo credit will be given due to HIPPA.

As I am fascinated by flying, I immediately inquired about his service. His enthusiasm shone through his eyes and as he spoke of the war and the thrill of being a "hot-shot" flying ace, the years represented with age spots and wrinkles began to fade. He spoke of how fortunate he was to still be alive and how he would forever hold the American aviation engineers as far superior to the Japanese. He said, "I tell ya, I believe in the engineering of our planes. Sometimes you would see a Jap and you would just do a little 4 second squirt and they would just explode. It took more than that for ours to go down."

As he spoke, I wondered as to how much this man had seen. His view from the sky provided a front row seat to a real-time conflict and a fight for life and death. At 30,000 feet in the air, the things that mattered were much different. He could certainly spend his time thinking about what was going on at home, if his men liked him, what he was going to eat for dinner, etc. however, the reality was that if he failed to focus on the task at hand, none of that would matter.

Something else he shared that was a very real part of his life was knowing that each time he went up, he had to have his "stuff on the ground together". He had to be prepared to die at any time. This meant when he was on the ground, he lived each moment to make it count. A quote from the movie Act of Valor along this line says:
"That last night at home, you think about how you could have been a better dad, a better husband, that bedtime story you should of read or that anniversary you forgot. You don't expect your family to understand what you are doing. You just hope they understand you're doing it for them and when you get home you can pick up right where you left off."

Our lives for the most part are much different. We are not fighting for our lives in the sense of actively engaging in combat with deadly weapons and a vicious physical enemy. The unfortunate reality is that many of us allow our safety and freedom to cause us to slip into a comfortable coma of living for the next thrill or distraction. We don't need to prioritize extensively as long as we show up to class or work on time and make our boss/customer/teacher happy. We don't strive for doing our best and living intentionally because we don't have to.

Experiencing life in third-world countries always helps me re-align my priorities, but why can't I have the physical discipline to do it without leaving the country. We live in a country that is comfortable and undisciplined. Obesity rates are skyrocketing. Depression, divorce, and addictions are at an all-time high. From my limited life experience and what I have experienced in the ER, I believe it has a lot to do with our "comfortable coma". We shy away from the uncomfortable and tell ourselves "I am fine" or "I will do it when it's more convenient". I will state a known constant. Life is not easy. It can be incredibly fulfilling or it can be meaningless but it is not meant to be easy. If we are going to make the most of something that can be over in an instant, we must realize it is going to take self-discipline. Whether that is disciplining your eyes to not wander from your relationship or forcing your thoughts away from the fridge and getting out of the chair to go for a run, life is full of the need for self-discipline.

I am not saying this is easy, but if it were easy then it would not be as meaningful. Think about when you were a child and you earned some money. Then think about when someone just gave you money. The feelings attached to that money are very different. Your life is the same. It is valuable and it was given to you but with this valuable possession comes and incredible responsibility.

Today I encourage you to live your life to the fullest. Live each moment as if you were a fighter pilot, going up in the air very soon for what could be the last time. Love hard and passionately. Step out of your house and actually smell the air. Take time to smile at your neighbor. Truly listen to the concerns of another. Life is but a vapor that vanishes away. We get one shot. Will you make the most of it?

I end with a poem from Tecumseh,

So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart.
Trouble no one about their religion
Respect others in their view
And demand that they respect yours
Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life
Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people
Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide
Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend
Even a stranger when in a lonely place
Show respect to all people and grovel to none
When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living
If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself
Abuse no one and nothing
For abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision
When it comes your time to die
Be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death
So that when their time comes
They weep and pray for a little more time
To live their lives over again in a different way
Sing your death song
And die like a hero going home

1 comment:

Conny said...

Once again, Grace ... lovely thoughts and wonderful nursing!