In a little over a month, I will turn 39. What has never ceased to amaze me is how I can continually be surprised by the circular path that healing and grief bring in life. There were three small simple words that I have been chasing my whole life. No, they weren’t “I love you”… they were so much more than that. I was a wounded bird that still had a little bit more healing to do. When I heard Air Traffic Control ask “souls on board” I realized this was a part of the healing. I realized then that this was exactly where I was meant to be, destined to heal and to grow from.
For the past 26 years, I’ve lived my life away from physically being around my dad. On a sunny day in April in 1992, the metal bird he was piloting raced down the runway and like a thousand times had before it leaped into the skies. This time, however, she leaped into eternity. Reading the NTSB report and news articles I was always haunted by the words and names of the souls on board that day.
I was 12 when the accident happened and by that age, the love story that was growing inside my heart for the sky was met with the greatest heartache of giving someone you loved and cherished so much back into the blue. I struggled for years with finding my identity, dating the right people, marrying the wrong one, losing myself and then fighting to save myself. The time, tears, and smiles all lead me back; looking back up at the sky, to my home and knowing I was meant to be there. That summer I wrote in my journal that I wanted to achieve the things I thought my dad didn’t get to achieve anymore.
The journey to making it to the airlines has been a long one. Outside factors, like an ex that believes it’s the most selfish endeavor, finances reminding me that I am past due, long tiring commuting, living in different time zones day after day are fatiguing, but to counter all that, my life has been infused with an unbelievable amount of joy found in doing what I was meant to do…fly.
What seemed like a never-ending process of training became joy when I passed my Airline Transport Pilot checkride and CRJ200 type ride. With the ink still fresh on my certificate I was headed to the line to fly passengers. Finally, after all these years I was closer to attaining the next step, that next step being the Initial Operating Experience (IOE) where a Line Check Airman flies with you to make sure you’re able to safely fly the airplane in the real world.
Now back up about 17 years and you’d find a young 22-year-old girl who reached out to the founder of a website called DiverDriver.com. I first contacted Chris in an email after stumbling upon his website and had felt compelled to thank him for what he was doing. You see, my dad’s accident still happens to be the worst skydiving crash with fatalities to this day. I did not know then at 22 that I would ever go on to be a jump pilot. Chris, who is a renowned jump pilot and formation pilot in the skydiving world created this website after losing his friends in a jump plane crash. Seeing the need for training curriculum he created this site so that no one’s life was lost in vain.
I know that the universe speaks to everyone differently, and for me, it’s in the signs. It’s in the whispers, the melody, the dance and sometimes sending people to guide me on my path. The last 26 years have been filled with signs to let me know my dad is here keeping me safe and to know he’s on my 6. I shouldn’t have been surprised to find him there in the sky even during my IOE.
As fate would have it I was paired with Chris. Go figure, the man I reached out to all that time ago would be there to see that Rody’s daughter was safe in the sky. It was on the beginning of the last day of my IOE when I was beginning to configure for landing and asked for flaps 8 when the flaps failed. In the CRJ200, that requires running checklists and ultimately declaring an emergency. An emergency at O’Hare, and hearing the words that haunted my mind for decades. “Souls on Board” are what ATC asked for and in an instant, the world changed something so painful into something so healing. While the event was fortunately uneventful it was being able to run the checklists, procedures, and landing only to turn onto taxiway PaPa and I couldn’t help but get teary-eyed.
Dad, you have been the ever silent wingman in my life who shows himself consistently in the little things I do. You’ve been a true north helping me navigate through life, and while I began my journal in 1992 with the desire to achieve the dreams you desired, I realized along the way it was really achieving MY dreams. Your dreams live on beyond the measure of time, just like our dreams and love expand beyond the horizon. You’re alive in the wind roaming with the other sky gypsies and in the sky is where I will keep finding you.