I looked out the window and knew if I died that day, I still lived a full life.
It surprised me how calm that thought made me – almost peaceful. After grasping the severity of the situation, my body and brain filled with warm thoughts, and I understood how blessed my short life had been compared with the longer lives of others. I had no regrets.
When assigned as an intelligence officer to a naval aviation squadron, I had the opportunity to earn my passenger flight qualifications. That meant if I needed to, I could fly in the back seat of our squadron’s jets. I attended naval aviation physiology training and didn’t drown, so months later I found myself launched off the USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean experiencing a triple flight emergency. With my limited aviation knowledge, I knew from the visible and audible signs that things weren’t looking up.
“Skids…we’re going to have to bring you in very straight and slow…did you hear me? Veeerrryyy straight and slow,” cracked the voice from the Air Boss on the ship. I knew this stoic man, and had never heard this voice.
“Roger, Boss,” replied the pilot. No quiver in his voice, but pure tension.
The naval flight officer turned to me, his voice reverberating in my helmet, “You remember the ejection sequence, right?”
I tried to say yes, but nodded instead conveying the same. While I didn’t have a great technical understanding of our squadron’s ES-3A aircraft, I did remember the low odds of surviving an ejection from this plane while on approach to an aircraft carrier.
But as I scanned the horizon, listening to nervous chatter on the box, I knew if I survived I would have a totally different perspective on life. I thought about the things that had been bothering me and stressing me out, and realized their trivial nature. I gained a fast sense of prioritization and a deep appreciation of the important aspects of life. It took ten minutes to sort out a lifetime of experiences and learning.
Following a harrowing carrier landing, I breathed deep, enjoyed life, and recognized my good fortune of having the chance to appreciate this new outlook. Once I gained an understanding of my well-lived life, I saw every additional day as a bonus, and a day to make it count and make a difference.