“Maris, the only difference between you and your captain will be your stories. The airlines will always be there. Go find your stories.” he said as we stood around the hangar on the north shore. I had come to know Bruce through his love for Stearmans and my gravitation towards hearing that melody of the wind in the wires. The words came exactly at the right time as I was trying to figure out if I should take the First Officer position at Island Air or fly on a big surf adventure with Billabong’s G-111. What seemed crazy to everyone else made perfect sense to another barnstormer. So I opted to fly in search of Jonathan Livingston Seagull and follow the beat of my heart down the off beaten path as I became a part of flying the flying boat around the Hawaiian Islands.
The first time I met Bruce I was 23 and a new flight instructor that had moved to the Islands to fly. Bruce was a senior Captain and Check Airman with Hawaiian Airlines and someone I respected as he put his heart and soul into his Barnstorming sightseeing tours out of his meticulously maintained Stearmans. My first flight in the stearman was in one of his and after he heard about “this girl pilot with the stearman tattoo”. Without hesitation he had his buddy Bob take me for a ride down the north shore coastline at sunset. From that day there always seemed to be this unspoken connection, an understanding from a kindred spirit.
His words while spoken 13 years ago, to this day still hold such a profound impact on my daily life. Then, at 26, I never really knew if I actually wanted to fly for the airlines. I had worked in flight operations as a Dispatcher for years and understood regulations, flights, regular ops, irregular ops and weather. The reason why I took to the skies was for freedom, and somehow I thought flying to a specific destination negated that. Maybe it was a naive way of thinking or romanticizing more of what I believe flying to be, but whatever you call it, I simply wasn’t ready. Maybe Bruce was giving me advice as a father would to his daughter.
Years had passed. A marriage, kids, and turbulence of a volatile marriage and divorce. I went from a versed traveller to living off food stamps and wondering if I would ever be able to fly again. The first year pay at the regional airlines, while dramatically improving was still not feasible for someone solo and away from any family. It was feasible nor the right time to fly. And yet, the words of “find your story” still was faintly heard through my heart’s song. So the kids and I ventured the only way we knew how, with our imagination. Imagination was free and imagination was full of hopes and dreams for trips yet to come. We’ve travelled to Paris and Africa, and climbed the tallest mountains. We flew even though our feet never left the ground. I hadn’t realized that all of the years on the ground my heart had been growing more in love with the sky and healing from the wounds of being in an abusive marriage. I believed I shouldn’t be an airline pilot because I was a single mom. I was told from not just my ex, but from people in the church, and so called “friends” that it was the most selfish thing I could do. While my heart did not feel that it was, it was this constant battle between my head and my heart to discern what road to take. Maybe it was through those adventures in our imaginations that made us ready and eager to take the next chapter when I did make the leap into the airline world.
As time went on I wondered if the airlines weren’t just waiting for me throughout all these years like a long lost love. Waiting for me to be a mom, waiting for me to see heartache and trials in a very personal way. Being an airline pilot has gifted me with seeing some of the happiest and hardest times that people are experiencing. Being a mom and a pilot has gifted me with the ability to access risks and take them when necessary and to also not be careless in those risks as I have children depending on me. Being a single mom on top of that, it means I don’t have time to waste, my choices need to be calculated. I can recognize how important of a role I play in the sojourners that I carry on my plane. Not every sojourner though is on an adventure they want to take.
A few months ago, on the last flight of the day, the gate agent came down to speak to the Captain and I about holding the plane for a dad who was on his way to say goodbye to his son on life support and would not make it through the night. The parent inside of me instantly was grieving for this man. Without hesitation we said absolutely and waited and waited until finally this man, about 70 came walking down the jet bridge. It was probably the longest walk of his life as he was doing what no parent should have to do, is say goodbye to their child. As the Captain taxied out to the runway and transferred the controls to me as it was my leg to fly, I pressed my lips tight together to fight the lump in my throat then said “set thrust” and the metal bird that we were on began to race down the runway and into the darkened night sky. The entire flight I wondered what the man must be thinking if he was looking out the window at the skies ahead. I wondered how I would and should do things differently with my own kids. I never saw the man depart as he was the first to disembark off the plane. I walked a little slower around my walk around as I put the plane to bed and was taking in the moment. We are all so very closely connected in this world and not much separates us. In finding our own stories we are often a part of someone else’s, and that is very humbling.
Shortly after the return from that trip a trip opened up Louisville to Chicago with lots of open seats. My heart leapt and I asked the Chief Pilot of my base if I could be placed on the trip. It meant I was able to do something my heart had longed for for such a long time. To fly with my children as passengers on the plane I was flying. All the lies that I was told from my ex, and the church and the “friends” when I left those environments of someone trying to dictate who you should or should not be, it is as if the world gave me exactly what I had longed for. Freedom. Love. Support. Inclusion of my children in flying, and the ability to go on endless adventures with my kids with me. As the day finally came for the flight, I was able to receive validation from the universe that somehow on the road to finding our story we became the story. These moments are OUR moments that define us and that can not be taken away by someone’s negativity or belief of who I should or should not be as a mom.
Finding your story is YOUR story. It’s personal to every unique fiber that makes who you are you. If you are trying to find your story, surround yourself who support your dreams. Who can encourage you, edify you. I think back to all those years ago to that day at Dillingham Airfield on the north short and the words that Bruce gave me were a gift. And I hope that today when you read them… it is now my gift to you.
Find your story.