Up in the air, and up on the ground
This isn't just a story about the World War II veteran who got to fly again, inspiring though it most certainly was. I know, because I was there — holding a video camera, unsteadily at times, as the power of the experience threatened to undermine my professionalism.
But the story is even bigger and broader than John, the resident in a post-acute rehab facility who battled through incredible adversity to climb into that cockpit. It ripples out to a cast of extraordinary supporting characters, and reveals a subplot of pure passion and exponential impact.
Obviously, the tale couldn't even be told without recognizing the long-term care staff who not only identified his dream, but also took the initiative and expended the energy to actually figure out how to make it happen. Life as a long-term care professional is, what's the word … busy. They didn't have to do this, but they did.
And of course, little would have been possible without the Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation that provided the pilot and iconic 1942 Boeing Stearman biplane absolutely free so the war hero could feel the wind in his hair and live a dream that seemed nothing short of physically impossible mere months ago.
But to me, the essential core of the story is about raw emotion — the undulations of unforced sentiment that passed through the crowd on the ground, the reactions and posted comments of those who've watched the video on social media since, and the unbridled joy of friends and family members who were privileged to be there in person as witnesses. In a world addicted to the often-contrived “Oprah moment,” we don't get to see an outpouring so genuine very often.
Nothing illustrated that more vividly than an interaction I managed to capture with two of John's grandchildren who showed up at the airport that day with an army of family members to celebrate his achievement. If you click on this link (and I'll be personally disappointed if you don't), you'll meet them at about the 1:20 mark.
John had already taken off and disappeared into the blue yonder when I pointed the camera at them, and we were merrily making small talk about him when the plane suddenly returned for an unscheduled fly-by. The spontaneous reaction of these two young people — which included huge waves, fives both high and low, and a lot of tears — was incredibly moving to me. I think you'll understand when you see it.
As a video guy tasked to capture such things, I always feel a little twinge of awkwardness invading the privacy of such a sacred moment, but they showed not a hint of discomfort so I let the camera keep rolling. Perhaps they simply knew how it would inspire others, and they were willing to reveal even the most personal truths in honor of their grandfather. “He's an inspiration,” said the grandson. “I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him.”
I think that's what we're called to feel, all of us, all the time, for the people we serve — that kind of pure, unabashed gratitude and appreciation. Every time we allow ourselves to experience emotions that genuine, and are willing to shamelessly reveal and express them to the world around us, we give our residents the greatest gift possible.
Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, a national Silver Medalist and regional Gold Medal winner in the 2014 Association of Business Press Editors (ASBPE) awards program. He has amused, informed and sometimes befuddled long-term care readers worldwide since his debut with the former SNALF.com at the end of a previous century. He is a multimedia consultant for Consonus Healthcare Services in Portland, OR.