It’s a shame that sometimes we learn more about a person after they have gone than we did in their presence. Such has been the case more often than not for me. I recently attended the memorial service for a friend that I worked with in one of the aviation circles I travel in. His name was Jim Burch. I liked him. I think most people did.
Jim and I served together on the Aviation Safety Advisory Group of Arizona for a number of years, but other than sitting across a table from Jim once a month and seeing him at a couple of other functions, I never took the time to say, "hey, let’s go grab some lunch or can we meet for breakfast some time?" Had I done that I think my life would have been much richer.
The thing about people in aviation, especially pilots, is that there is a shared bond, a shared respect in many cases that ties us together. When I was younger I didn’t appreciate it as much as I do now. Now that I’ve aged a bit, well a lot, I tend to focus on relationships a bit more. Being at the memorial service reminded me that sometimes we get so caught up in our project du jour that we spend all of our time focused on the project and not so much on the people we work and serve with.
I don’t want to go through life like that. So caught up in the grind that we miss the aroma of life. Kind of like my first time in a sailplane, so caught up in the mechanics that I missed the pure joy of flight. Sometimes the important things in life sneak up on us and sometimes we have to discipline ourselves to find them. The more mature I get the less I want to be sneaked up on!
You know it’s funny how certain things stick in our mind. I’ll remember Jim for a lot of things, but there’s one image that stands out. It wasn’t a memory of mine but one that was shared by one of his friends at the memorial service. The image is one of Jim and several of his good friends seated around a campfire. The night is cool and the stars are as thick as sand on a beach. The conversation drifts between airplanes and special projects. They share tall tales and brag about the things of men. There is laughter and there is music and then Jim’s thoughts begin to drift to the love of his life, his wife and companion for so many years. Right on cue, his friend with the guitar begins to play and sing the words to their song, "Only You."
That tells me much about the kind of man Jim was. Whether in the cockpit or around the camp fire, I know Jim could have taught me a lot about flying. I have no doubt he could have also taught me more about life! The right amount of rudder and a light touch on the stick.