Chances

If you were to go look at the Henry County Warhawk yearbook from 1974, you would find my senior picture. Most of us guys were just goofy boys with long hair and acne. We had that lost look of “Where the heck do I go from here” on our faces. At least, that’s the way I interpret the looks now.

We all wrote down in one line what we dreamed of becoming. The one thing we hoped to take a chance on in order to realize a dream. There were plenty of “Doctor” and “Lawyer” dreams. I hope they made it. One guy wanted to coach baseball. Another wanted to be a diesel mechanic. I should look him up.

Me. This is silly. I can barely tell this.

“To fly the 747s”

I grew up about 35 miles as the crow flies from Hartsfield International Airport. I would say, as the plane flies, but over the airport they mostly go in wide circles waiting for clearance to land. They circled a lot over our house, like fireflies in the night sky. My folks had friends who were Delta Pilots. I had a cousin that was a flight instructor for Delta. My preacher was a pilot. I was exposed to a lot of flying stories.

So, a boy could dream.

But that dream never panned out. I was serious about it at the time. I worked a summer job between my Junior and Senior year to earn enough to pay for flying lessons. The summer after graduation I earned my Private Pilot’s License. To this day, one of my proud moments.

I took lessons out of a little place called Halls Flying Ranch. A grass strip between two pastures with two little tin sheds. One for an office. One for frying up pork rinds. And one Cessna 150 tied down next to the deep fry. It was kind of like being at the County Fair. Thrill rides and food. The potential thrill was the swamp at the end of the runway, which came up quick if you ran long on touch down.

I started out at Bear Creek Airport, right next to the Atlanta Motor Speedway. A long paved runway, 9 and 27. That’s Niner and Two Seven for you non-aviator schmucks. But the lessons were cheaper at Halls and I could go up about anytime I wanted.

I made plans to get into the Air Force ROTC program at some unnamed institution of higher education. Got accepted. But was told that my eyesight would keep me from being a pilot. I could be a navigator. But riding in the front seat was not an option.

I’ve done several things career-wise in my life. I took a couple of tours of duty in full time ministry. I worked in a carpet mill. An office job that I hated all six months I tried to make it work. I had a landscape maintenance job in Atlanta.

I even tested to be an Air Traffic Controller. I figured if I couldn’t fly the 747s, I’d look at a blip of them on a scope in a dark room. Or maybe from a control tower. I passed the tests and a year later they called and offered me a chance at training in Oklahoma City (another story another time), but I was headed in another direction by then.

Here’s the thing. Every dream, every job is a chance. A chance to connect to something that drives you. Or, a chance to find yourself miserable. And in between somewhere, a chance to make life work.

None of the goofy kids in any yearbook from any high school in any town have a clue how this works at the time they start dreaming. If you’re reading this and you are sitting in Mrs. Purdue’s Senior English class, stop it and pay attention. And I’m sorry if you think I’ve insulted your intelligence. But even if you are smart academically, you’re dumb about life. It’s just a fact. You can’t see it right now, but wait for it.

What you really need to know is that most of what works in life comes only when you figure out how to make it work. The emphasis on “make.” Don’t be afraid of the chances you must take. Don’t shy away from the risk of failure. And quit looking for the perfect dream job. And never give up or allow yourself to be defeated. A few kids dream it, follow it, and do it; but they are rare individuals.

I have been making my living with plants now for over 30 years. This was never on my list of dreams. But I have settled in on something that works for me. It took me half my life to get here. Some would say that I wasted a lot of years fooling around with other stuff. Sitting through some pretty intense higher education that now has nothing to do with my job. But I am convinced that all we do pours into the making of who we become.

“No experience, no training is ever wasted.” That’s what my Dad said.

I’m going to go out on a limb here. The key to making life work is to recognize that life is not about you. It’s about how you pour your life into others. Self-absorbed dreams and self-serving ambition is the ruin of life. Dream about doing something different if you want. That’s fine. I’m not saying stay where you are. But realize that wherever you are, the grass really isn’t greener somewhere else if all your wants and ambitions are only about you.

The best in life comes to a person when he begins to take an interest in the people around him. It might be a co-worker. A cashier. Your employees. It certainly includes your family. These are all people whose lives could be better because of you. The job becomes secondary when the people around you become a priority.

My wife dreamed about doing mission work in a foreign country. She ended up teaching school and being a Mom. There were times she thought that she was wasting her life. But she loved her own kids and tried to love on everybody else’s kids for a long time. She made it work. She may not think this, but I know this. She figured it out.

I don’t fly any more. I do miss it. And I often wonder what path my life would have taken had I achieved my dream. But, in spite of that failed dream, I have found my life. I am exactly where I should be. Exactly where I want to be. Not because Lady Luck shined on me. Not because all the stars lined up. Although I do believe some luck and some destiny comes in the form of God’s hand on our lives. I’m here mostly because of the people around me who supported me and those who have allowed me to be a part of their lives.

Always wanting to be somewhere else, doing something else keeps a person restless. It took some time, and it is not easy to learn this, but I have learned to want to be where I am. And I have concluded that maybe I am living the dream.

4 thoughts on “Chances

  1. Funny this. My son has the same dream to fly the big jets. He was an instructor in Florida for a while but has just started with “PlaneSense” in New Hampshire to get his multi engine hours up so he can sign on with an airline in a year or so. As he tells me of his adventures I always think of you. Godspeed, Paul!

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  2. You grew up near Hartsfield International Airport and later as a preacher, you married a guy named Hartsfield!! Hmm! The story may continue. Ha!!

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  3. Go figure. Didn’t know you flew a puddle jumper. One thing I learned, in my twenty years of flying for the military, is that flying results in hours and hours of boredom interrupted by moments of stark terror. Still I do miss an early morning clime out looking at the mist rising from the tops of the trees and the sun making a new world out of the one you were in yesterday. Riding a motorcycle 🏍 isn’t the same, but it’s as close as you can get an still be in touch with the ground.

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