Light rain is tapping against my office window as I write this. It’s early morning. The sun is just up. In central Florida this is normally the calm period of the day when all is peaceful and calm. But not today. Today, the weather took a turn.
That’s okay. I planted olive and coffee trees in the yard over the weekend. The rain will do them good.
For flight students, weekend warriors, and low-time VFR pilots, this is the type of day when flights get pushed back or rescheduled to another day. To be honest, there are days very much like this when I cancel my plans to fly and travel instead by surface roads to my destination.
I’ve got nothing to prove. If the weather is beyond the capabilities of my airplane, or if it’s likely to develop into something I would rather not wrestle with, I’m perfectly happy to stay on the ground.
What we’re dealing with this morning, at least in my neck of the woods, is a bit of adversity. There are decisions to be made. Not all of them are happy or convenient. But they must be made, nonetheless.
Because adversity requires a change in behavior for those who are sharp enough to recognize it for what it is. They’ll be fine. It’s the folks who continue on, unaffected by the change in circumstance, that I worry about.
The acceptance of reality isn’t an aviation thing. It’s a life thing. When winter comes, we bundle up. When it rains, we seek cover. When summer is upon us, we break out the SPF 50 and take the time to hydrate more often than we do during the rest of the year.
Our reality changes from season to season, from day to day, from hour to hour. It is and always has been in our best interest to acknowledge the current state of our environment and adapt to it. We certainly don’t have the power or the technology necessary to change the world around us on a whim. But we can adapt and that’s good enough for me.
I learned to sail when I was a boy. Each time I went out under the power of the wind, I was at the helm of a small, fiberglass boat that was easy to handle. I sailed on lakes. Some were big, some were not. But they were all inland. Circumstance and surroundings protected me from the complexity of a larger boat, as well as the caprice of the sea.
As a result, I can honestly say I know how to sail. I am not a sailor, however.
My friend David is a sailor, although he hasn’t been to sea in years and has no plans to return. He’s captained freighters in every ocean on the planet. He’s fought hurricanes to a draw and revised his course to skirt known pirate activities. David knows what it is to spend an entire day gliding over a still body of water, and he knows what it is to spend a dark night hoping the ship holds together and all hands stay aboard.
Yes, David is a sailor, even though, these days, he rarely leaves the confines of the lake. The apex of my seafaring abilities leave me wishing for an interaction with dry land when David wouldn’t even consider turning around.
Flip the script a bit and our roles reverse. David and I have flown together. He can taxi the airplane with reasonable skill — which is to say he rarely needs an assist to keep the aircraft out of the grass. While in straight and level flight on a calm VFR day, he’s fine. If the circumstances add any complexity to the flight, by lowering the visibility, or the ceiling, or throwing some turbulence into the mix, David quickly becomes the aeronautical equivalent of my nautical neophyte.
David has adapted himself to the sea. And he’s done it with great effort over decades of hard-earned experience. I’ve done something similar, but with more altitude. We both enjoy the calm moments, because we’re human beings who can appreciate the beauty of the world around us. But within our own self-imposed limits, we can also handle a bit of adversity here and there.
It’s that adversity that presented us with the opportunity to learn from the experience of others, to get creative, to apply our best efforts to a situation and learn from the outcome. Regardless of whether the end result was one we cared for or not, we learned. And with that knowledge, we honed our ability to recognize danger and adapt in order to mitigate it.
Yes, it would be a wonderful thing if every day ran from start to finish with light winds, clear skies, and smooth air. But we would learn very little under those conditions. We would be sailors limited to day-sailing on lakes. We would be pilots with confidence but little experience. When our first flirtation with adversity came upon us, we would be completely unprepared to deal with it.
No, I like the chaotic world we live in just fine. Even as a boy on the lake, I learned quickly that when the wind blew, the skies grew dark, and whitecaps began to form on the waves it was time for me to get to safe harbor and hunker down.
It’s raining and the ceiling is low. I’m happy to be in my office and not in the cockpit of the Cessna 152. I can be productive here. I would be flirting with a less than optimal outcome in the airplane.
Adversity is good. It’s educational. In fact, one might say it is essential to the development of high-level skills, good judgment, and the safe implementation of procedures.
May you find plenty of adversity in your life. Not too much all at once. Just enough to keep you motivated, dedicated to change, and seeking to find what’s over the horizon with enough confidence and competence to make the journey safely.