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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."


Type rated on A330, B747-400, B747, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

OVERCOMING TRAGEDY

T.H.ursdays with Tom Hill


Tragedy is a part of life whether we believe it or not.  On the path of living we will lose friends and family.  It's part of being human, it's a part of life.  Some might say, how we act in the midst of tragedy is what truly defines us.  How we bounce back can show inner strength.  Unfortunately, it's a subject we rarely talk about which can make dealing with tragedy a difficult internal and individual struggle in so many ways.

As part of the military flight test community I've had my share of encounters with tragedies.  Most of them are unexpected.  Some of them were culminations of long struggles with illness.  Sometimes you look for answers to basic questions in such situations.  Other times, there are no questions, just the sadness of losing someone important to you.  Every occasion is different and the same simultaneously.  There's no predicting how the struggle with tragedy will end.

Last year I lost a great friend well before his time after he lost his battle with leukemia.  When all our old friends gathered at his memorial service, I felt a warm wave of deep connection with him and the others as we sang a favorite fighter-pilot song.  I hadn’t felt that in years.  It was very comforting as we were saying “good-bye.”  Another time my colleagues gathered to send off another friend in the privacy of his squadron's bar.  We toasted his accomplishments.  We acknowledged what he meant to us.  We relived him in our way.

Such losses have to be expected even though they're terrible to acknowledge.  Having a "process" to work through the loss is imminently useful if for no other reason than to move on to what's next.  I'm lucky because the traditions of my military aviation community kick-in in such situations.  The details of memorializing your lost friend are already established from traditions passed through the years.  We only have to execute the process.  Then, we bring ourselves “in” to remember and acknowledge our lost comrade.  It's simple and difficult at the same time.

 

When you're in the middle of such tragedy, it's so easy to be sucked into the loss with no apparent way out.  The path ahead isn't so clear in such situations.  What helps is having another focus, something else to concentrate on instead of the loss.  For me, I had flying to move my mind forward.

Many years ago, my squadron lost a couple of dear friends due to a mid-air collision.  They were doing their mission when another aircraft collided with theirs taking them away in an instant.  That evening our squadron assembled in our bar as was our tradition.  We stood in a circle and one by one we each told a story of knowing our friends.  We told our story, raised a glass full of scotch, then gave a toast.   Happy and sad, the stories came until we were done, the bottle was empty.  A couple days later at the base memorial service, hundreds gathered.  The service ended with four fighters executing a perfect missing man formation, the sound of the jet engines fading into the distance.  The memorial was done yet we were still left with this void were our friends used to be.  The path ahead wasn't so clear.

Back at the squadron, after the memorial service, we met with family one more time.  There was still one more thing to do, one more task to complete.  Even though we weren't sure it was time, we had to do it.  We had to get back to our mission, back to flying.  We flew a simple test mission the next day.  The business of the mission occupied our brains and away from the loss.  Life continued on.

Even today, many years later, I recall that time after losing our friends.  I remember them, their mishap, what happened in the squadron afterward.  Sometimes I’m reminded for no reason.  Other times, who knows.  Always, I remember our group gathering, speaking of them, and raising a glass.  Then, in the midst of those thoughts I feel a connection to those we lost then to the others that remained.  With that, the thoughts pass by without trouble then life continues on.

Cheers


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14 comments:

  1. YES I EVER LOST MY BOYFRIEND N I KEEP MOVING :)

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  2. tragedy? i have great story, while 911 tragedy i met cute NYPD cops n until now he be my BF so whatever tragedy sometime tragedy can change into good things :) dont ever give up, cheers :) by jin seon, follow me on facebook by searching JIN SEON from singapore airlines :)

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    1. We never know why we are brought together. But sometimes it's through tragedy. We just need to be where we need to be. Thanks for your comment!

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  3. Ah... Another great Thursday with Tom Hill. Your words gives me a message of "care", "love" and "courage". You are very brave and, in my humble thought, these might be the main characteristics of a warrior, of a soldier, of a fighter pilot.

    I want to tell you something, Tom. Of course you already know, but it doesn't hurt to say it again. Keep with this to the rest of your life. Care and love is what our world needs. We need simplicity and help others.

    Impressive post. Life goes on in a different course. Keep moving.

    Keep on with the good posts. I may not comment that much, but I'm always reading. ;)

    Have a great rest of the week everyone!

    Cheers!
    Alex

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    1. Thanks for the words, Alex. I do spend lots of time "with the rest of my life". If I didn't have such an awesome day-job, I'd be doing the photography thing full-time. At least, that's what I tell myself. As it is, I make conscious choices to make sure I maintain what I love which is substantially different than doing what I'm able to do.

      I occasionally am offered opportunities to do other things that mostly don't include flying. Or, the flying piece is dangled out there but with lots of desk time. Being the type to tackle challenges as they come, I'm prone to react to such advances. I'm better at recognizing those alternate paths do not lead to where I really want to go. As a result, I probably earn less and have less prestige yet am perfectly happy.

      Thanks for the words.

      Cheers

      Tom

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    2. Alex, this is the most beautiful comment. And I couldn't agree with you more. And Tom... doing what you love and following your heart is so much more powerful than prestige and or money. You are not selling your life the highest bidder, so you can be very proud. Follow that good heart!

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  4. Sulu, it's been far too long. The things you speak of, among many others, are why I will always, always miss the flying community. I will always love the Air Force for it's people and it's tradition, though it is a young service comparitively. Flying--the act itself, and the community--is so rich in tradition and relationship. I wish you knew how much I still prize the Philosophical Phlights with Sulu. Engineering, space and acquisitions just don't have the ability to measure up. They're just not the same. But then, I knew that even before I left.

    I'm really, really sorry to hear about BamBam. I wish I'd known, I would've gone to Arlington.

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    1. Chili, Thank you so much for your comment! While never being in the military myself, I can attest to the flying community for sure. Thanks again for your comment.

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    2. Chili!!! Thanks for being here.

      Cheers

      Sulu

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  5. Great post Tom! Everyone goes through tragedies in their lives, but I can imagine in the test pilot world it is harder because of the suddenness of it. One of my favorite movies of all time is "The Right Stuff" - and that is portrayed so well in there.

    Thank you for another excellent post...

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    1. I couldn't agree with you more Mark. Thank you so much for your comment. And yes... a great movie!

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