I had to choose between the front and back seat … but realistically I only fit in the front. Just this simple choice impacted what images I could take, what stories I could tell.
Photo by William Topa / Unsplash

You're in the right seat whether you know it or not. There are three key things that pilots do that teach us a lot about living well.

Ask anyone who has ever taken flight lessons. The student sits right seat. The pilot, the person in charge of the flight, has left seat. Chances are very good you are in the right seat, and someone/something else is flying you. With your full permission. But I'm ahead of myself.

So about flying.

Staying aloft is the whole point. Once you've mastered at least a few aspects of staying in the air as opposed to careening out of control and ending up as roadkill in the nearest field, you realize that those dials in the cockpit, just like in a car, are there for a reason.

It's called feedback, telling you about how you're flying.

Kindly, to keep the the nose of the aircraft in the right Altitude (so that you don't fly into branches, mountains, power lines, for example) Attitude (to avoid stalls, for example) and Heading, meaning that you are pointed generally in the direction you intended to go.

That last of course, means that given that the air is full of crosswinds, and we get distracted by lots of stuff (not smart to text and fly, kindly) and storms do show up and blow us off course, we are constantly making course corrections.

If you're driving on I-70 in summer through Colorado, I can guarantee you it will be under construction. Do that in the high country and you will not only find construction but, as happens regularly, Glenwood Canyon  may be closed due to rock slides, or stupid drivers (some of whom were texting instead of driving).

So, course corrections.

Life, like the sky, tosses crap your way, you learn to make course corrections. Some do, anyway.

In the 1970s I took civilian flying lessons in the military but turned to skydiving instead. I picked up ultralights in Australia around 1985. I got my ultralight license, which like so many things disappeared when I returned to the States in 1988. Still.

I can't tell you how valuable lessons about wind shear, ground rush, being mindful of one's instruments , closing speed and your place in the sky have been for just living.

Here's why, and forgive the analogy:

Too many of us fly through life, careering and careening off course, flying into mountains and crashing and never having the slightest idea where we are, where the ground its or that we are sitting right seat (read: co-pilot) when someone or something else is flying the plane that is our life.

One of my dear friends is 69 this year, and finally got her IFR rating, or Instrument Flight Rules. That means that Maggie Kruger can safely pilot a plane through thick fog, a storm, a cloud bank without ever seeing anything through the windshield.

When you and I are in the dark, where we are plenty of the time, most of us aren't trained to navigate very well.

The airplane's cockpit instruments tell us: how high are you above sea level? Where is your nose in relation to the horizon, which tells you if you're about to stall out or heading towards the ground? Are you on course or about to head for the Hamptons when your final destination was Miami?

We can see none of this feedback if we're on our phones or allowing someone else to do the piloting.

Yes, I'm going there.

When we crash, it's often because we're not attending. Be that profligate spending (been there) profligate eating (been there) profligate sex or other bad habits (been there) we can end up road kill. We didn't maintain adequate altitude, or informed perspective, and as a result we crash. If we're lucky enough to survive, we can take off and do another go-around. Hopefully this time we attend where we are in relation to the ground. Too many keep crashing until there is that last crash.

That's Altitude.

The feedback you and I receive from those of us who love us as well as feedback loops we design for ourselves are what keep us growing, honest, engaged. The natural world gives us feedback all the time- from aches and pains in the body to whether we're slowing down from want of exercise. How we frame the world around us, what we take in as information which allows us to master our flight all feed into our ability to fly well no matter how rough the journey. The more junk science, junk information, lousy data and all the rest we take in, the worse our attiude and the more likely we will crash. The more bitter, angry, jealous, resentful, angry we are the more guaranteed a really ugly crash.  It's impossible to stay airborne and light when you are heavy with hate.

That's Attitude.

Anywhere is fine if you don't have a road map, which is great for Hump Days, but not a good life plan. I take a Hump Day for mental and emotional regrouping. But there is a much larger direction, which is where I am heading. I'm researching ex-pat communities, looking at various options and not leaving my end of life to WTF. My last decades on this planet are up to me. Clarity around what I want, what I can afford, who needs to be on my team and who it benefits to help me move forward are all part of that strategy.

Part of that heading is driven by fitness, which is just one reason I bang that drum all the time. I've had a rough couple of years driven in part by a big decision to move to Oregon (part of realizing that part of my intended course, and not without serious headwinds including an horrific car wreck) and my body is undergoing badly-needed maintenance. All vehicles do.

A poorly-maintained airplane will most assuredly put you in the dirt. So does a poorly-maintained body. So too, your personal affairs.

Too many seniors leave that to chance. With Medicare facing trouble, and Social Security hardly enough to pay a portion of today's skyrocketing rents, and medical costs through the roof, being clear right now about what you and I must to have any kind of a decent and joyful life takes hard work. Staying on course is even harder. Ask anyone who ever lost weight how staying the course went for them two years later.

That's Heading.

Photo by Mariah Krafft / Unsplash

The above photo is the guy in right seat-YOU- not flying the plane that is your life. Worse, most of us aren't even looking around. We're looking at screens. That makes us spectators.

You do not clamber into a small airplane and take off, lean back, get sucked into your phone and say What the Fuck, whatever.

Yet millions of us do just that. Every day, all day, the second we wake up, get sucked into our little black rectangles and hand the piloting of our lives to someone else who DOES NOT CARE how you crash, only if you can empty your wallet into their bank accounts before you die.

I'm not going to tell you how to live your life. However, as an erstwhile pilot, I take my flight training and apply it: Attitude, Altitude-Heading every day. I will get blown off course. Sometimes when that happens, where I land is even better than I'd planned. But the point is to bloody well fly your own plane.

Your own life.

Deposit photos