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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Its A Sin To Kill A Mockingbird


Harper Lee’s classic novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, is a giant in American literature.  The author uses not only the main characters to tell a provocative story, but allows the minor ones to add even greater depth to lessons the children, Jem, Scout and Dill, learn as their world grows beyond the innocence of their own backyard.  One such interaction takes place between Jem and their spinster neighbor Maudie.  Jem hears from Miss Maudie what he has probably felt for some time, that his father, Atticus, is different than other men in Maycomb County.

“I simply want to tell you that there are some men in this world who were born to do our unpleasant jobs for us. Your father’s one of
them.”

“Oh,” said Jem. “Well.”

“Don’t you oh well me, sir,” Miss Maudie replied, recognizing Jem’s
fatalistic noises, “you are not old enough to appreciate what I said.”

Jem was staring at his half-eaten cake. “It’s like bein’ a caterpillar in a cocoon, that’s what it is,” he said. “Like somethin’ asleep wrapped up in a warm place. I always thought Maycomb folks were the best folks in the world, least that’s what they seemed like.”

“We’re the safest folks in the world,” said Miss Maudie. “We’re so
rarely called on to be Christians, but when we are, we’ve got men like Atticus to go for us.

As I reach the sunset of my professional aviation career, this passage speaks so clearly to me the role airline Captains play in the thousands of flights that navigate the globe everyday. 

Just like the Finch children, Jem and Scout, today’s airline pilots exist in a protected environment that rarely requires them to make the hard choices.  Decision-making is mostly predestined in thick manuals of policy and procedure.  In rare cases, situations arise that require extraordinary leadership.  In the spirit of Atticus, some of the men who have been required to do the tough things have names like Haynes, de Crespigny and Sullenberger.  However, many others do not have names because their tough choices are never noticed. 

The difference between notoriety, infamy and obscurity can be very slim. Sometimes disaster is avoided by landing a crippled jetliner.  However, sometimes it is avoided by making a tough decision.  Landing on a slippery runway, descending into mountainous terrain at night, flying through thunderstorms or even flying a daytime visual approach can also be opportunities to avoid disaster. When things get rushed, confused or doubtful it takes courage to resist momentum and break the unfolding chain of events.  So many iconic air crashes might never have happened.  So many lives could have been saved, but for making the hard choices.  To abandon an approach or divert, especially while others are landing, is not an easy decision.  Most likely it will be met with opposition or negative critique.  Captains who shoulder this responsibility every day, who make the tough choices, will always remain nameless. There are no accolades or news headlines for a safe arrival. The simple peace and confidence of doing the right things to be safe is its own reward. 

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