Monday, October 15, 2012


The first time I flew solo in an airplane, I departed from Pleasant Valley Airport in Peoria. It’s a small operation north of Phoenix, and the facilities can best be described as “Spartan.” The runways are thin strips of desert floor plowed free of the larger pieces of sandstone and basalt, and the gravel and protuberances of the dry Gila River valley cover each of the runways. The Schweizer 2-33 can take off at a hair under 40 miles an hour when it’s not burdened with the weight of two riders, but even at that speed rolling over the dirt runways at Pleasant Valley is a jarring experience.

When the airplane first starts rolling all its weight is borne by the landing gear and their contact with the runway. Every bump, dip, and chip of gravel transmits a jolt to the wheels, the aircraft structure, and ultimately to the pilot. You accelerate as you roll down the runway, and the experience of ground contact begins to rattle your spine. Soon, though, the wings are moving quickly enough through the dusty air that they ease the load on the tires, pushing the glider’s weight through sheets of air rather than wheels on ground. Takeoff is a moment first sensed through touch rather than sight. When the shaking stops, replaced by the smooth continuous jostling of aerodynamic motion through turbulence, you’re aloft.

It’s a relief to be airborne after the rattling and rolling of the takeoff run. Ground holds an airplane gruffly, though the path is assured. The touch of air is gentle, purposeful but accommodating, like the hold of a familiar dance partner. Leaving the ground behind and embracing the air above is a moment of relief for the pilot, knowing he’s taken the machine into a realm where she’s better equipped to move through the elements. Still, on a gusty day it can be an unnerving process to leave the certainty of the path of ground below.

This process of embracing uncertainty and drawing away from the unsettling notions of the past is something like my experience developing my career and exploring religion in the last few years. To be honest, this seems the most appropriate way to describe where I am:

Whether or not I have any idea what I’m doing, I have ideas with varying shades of vagueness on what progress is, and I like making progress. I've spent more time idle than I’d like since deciding to put grad school on hold and head to Boeing, but that will come to an end after the new year. I’m confident that that’s the best I action I can take now, though it is a departure from my original plan. In the meantime, I've written quite a bit on various things that interest me, and plan to make more serious progress between now and starting full-time in Seattle. Will advise.

Last month, I started going to the weekly Rite of Christian Introduction for Adults (RCIA) at St. Mary’s in College Station. This is trickier, but I've had enough influences, some subtle, some overt, in my life pushing me toward Catholicism that I felt I needed to learn more about it. So I’m gathering data, trying to make an informed decision, painfully aware of how bad I can be at making important decisions when I’m given conflicting advice. Still, this seems like the appropriate place for me to be now (though I’ll need to find new RCIA classes in Phoenix later this month and in Seattle in January), so I’ll keep plugging away trying to make sense of how things work in this universe.

I’m slowly beginning to understand that if I keep flippantly taking up monumentally challenging tasks, I’ll probably never really feel like I know what I’m doing. Not that that’s a big deal. Truth be told, I can’t think of anything better to do. 

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