Words of Wellness

January 16, 2009 | The Rev. Dr. Scott Stoner

Pilots and Passengers

Last week I wrote about how we reveal much about ourselves by the way we react to stress.† Pilot Chesley B. Sullenberger III certainly did just that this week with his "miracle on the Hudson" landing of US Airways Flight 1549 that saved the lives of all 155 passengers.† There are many lessons we can take from this event.† I would like to share a few as they relate to family wellness.

†††† In this flight called life that we are all flying on together, we are much more dependent on each other than we usually realize.† When we board a passenger plane we do not know each other and we have no need to know each other or no need to work together to reach the destination for which we are heading.† That's how flight 1549 out of NYC began.† In an instant though, this group of strangers suddenly needed each other.† People who had not yet even introduced themselves to each other were suddenly holding hands and praying together.† Complete strangers suddenly had to work together to help insure that everyone could exit the plane safely.† Passengers on the plane who may not have even known that ferries operated on the Hudson River were suddenly being rescued by strangers who they will most likely never see again.

†††† Families no matter how close or distant are groups of people who need each other, even if they often act like they do not.† Most of the time (if we are fortunate) we fly through life without severe turbulence and so it is easy to pretend we are self sufficient.† And then all of a sudden, from out of nowhere a flock of geese appear in the form of a job loss, an illness, an accident, a mental health crisis, a marital crisis, or a spiritual/faith crisis and our engines stall.† Who is going to guide us in for a safe landing?† It may be a total stranger who appears as an angel sent from God to help us, but more than likely than not it will be someone in our nuclear or extended family.†

†††† In our families we all take turns being both pilots and passengers.† Sometimes we are the passengers who need someone to guide us to safety.† Sometimes we are the pilot and our child, or aging parent, or estranged sibling needs us to guide them to safety.† Both roles can be challenging.†

†††† The passenger role requires us to acknowledge our need for others.† It means we have to take off our masks of self-sufficiency and let others hold our hands and pray with us.† It means we have to acknowledge that any illusions we have of always being in control are just that.† We need to stay close to each other and not become as strangers to one another.

†††† On the other hand, when a family member is completely dependent on us, such as a child or an aging or sick family member we are most clearly in the role of the pilot.† That family member is as dependent on us for their well-being as the passengers on flight 1549 were on Pilot Sullenberger.† It is a daunting responsibility.†† Like pilots, we have to be sure we are well trained for the role, seeking out support, classes, and mentors on an regular basis.† Also like pilots, we have to take care of ourselves, knowing our limits and knowing when fatigue is getting in the way of doing our jobs.†

††††† Chesley Sullenberger, the passengers of flight 1549, the ferry boat operators and all involved in the "miracle on the Hudson" are an inspiration to us all.† They are reminders of the everyday miracles that occur in our families as we offer safe landings for one another, flying together through life as both pilots and passengers.

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