My son and I just had a very long phone conversation. He called to share some news with me that he had been waiting for, and unfortunately, it wasn’t good. He was working toward a profession that would not only help others, but would be a lot of fun as well. He found an organization called I-TEC (Indigenous People's Technology and Education Center) that was founded by the son of his hero, for lack of a better term. My son got the opportunity to meet him and express appreciation for the work the organization does. He was excited beyond words when an offer came back that would help him get his private pilot’s license and the requisite follow-on ratings to do the humanitarian work the company does in return for construction skills. My son’s Facebook postings were full of the kind of enthusiasm that dreams are made of and the kind of wording that let me know he was still a kid inside [Click here to see his blog]. However, that unbridled enthusiasm was dashed in the blink of an eye when the news from the FAA came yesterday. It ruled that he was physically unqualified to pilot an aircraft although his congenital conditions had been surgically corrected. It shattered his dream.
“So, what’s next?” I cautiously asked him. His response was remarkable and something that made me very proud of him, especially in light of this blow. He said that he knew that he was in a place where he was supposed to be and that even if he wasn’t in the pilot’s seat, he would continue in the humanitarian work in which the organization is engaged. It took me back to the day when I was exactly his age and the same verdict had been passed down to me by a navy flight surgeon: NPQ - not physically qualified. I remember the utter disappointment, the devastation, I felt when those three little letters were stamped on my pre-commissioning physical form. Like him, I had made a commitment, and I knew where I was supposed to be. I shared that story with him and how five years later a door was opened that allowed me to fulfill my dream of being a pilot. Had I not gone forward on a positive note the day I got my own bad news and gave my best efforts, the door would have remained bolted shut, so I told him to be the best at whatever he does so that if a door can be opened, someone will show him the way through.
The other thing that his response told me was more important than allowing me to comfort him with my own success story. It told me that my son was becoming a man. Sure, he towers over me at 6’-3” but it was dealing with this kind of situation with grace and maturity that told me that my boy was growin’ up! And that—more than the empathy of some medical authority’s ruling raining on my son’s parade—brought a tear to my eye. While so many of us would have complained about the injustice of it all, about how bad things happen to good people, and any other kind of excuse, he took the figurative road less traveled. Sure, he’s grieving the death of a dream, but it’s clear that he will be fine in short order…and who knows? That dream may have soap opera qualities and re-surface out of a dramatically impossible situation and allow him to fly after all. One can have hopes, right? After all, dreams are the stuff of hopes. I, if anyone, should know that. I got to live my dream, something for which I will be forever grateful.
I can’t stop there, though, because a genuine gratitude journal should be refreshed daily. Having my son call me and pour out his heart over this disappointment was, in and of itself, something that filled me with gratitude for him. Despite the continent that divides us, nothing can separate matters of the heart and of trust. The old adage of ‘like father, like son,’ wasn’t lost on me when he chose to go into aviation and it wasn’t lost on me again yesterday when at the very age I had my own road block put in front of me, he did as well. He may not get a chance to fly as I did, but I believe he will still find the dream that will both fulfill his heart and make all of us envious of his accomplishment. After all, we’re already very proud of him. Who wouldn’t be?
I am not prone to schadenfreude and certainly do not revel in my own trials and tribulations, but I am excited to see what kinds of adventures and experiences he has as a result of this detour. My own dream detour took me to Europe and gave me experiences with people who taught me incredible things about humanity, about other cultures, and ultimately resulted in the very man who is navigating his own road today. It’s a good reminder that the road on which we travel will always have rough patches that slow us down and sometimes put us out of commission for a while, but the road continues on whether we like it or not. The only question is which road we will travel. Having experienced infamous LA traffic first hand, I can tell you that the analogy is as true in life as it is for commuting. It may come at you at break-neck speed or it may come to a stop in a frightening instant, but the road does indeed get you where you’re supposed to be…eventually!
Dreams deferred hurt like hell. There’s just no other way to say it. Yet, without exception, everyone I’ve ever spoken to that is living their dream says that timing was everything. And rather than chalking it all up to blind, dumb luck, I prefer Seneca’s definition of luck being where preparation and opportunity come together. The ‘lucky’ ones? Seems to me they sure do work hard. And my son? Yeah, he’s a lucky one, even though it may not look like it today. No doubt, he’ll be making a positive difference on the road ahead of him.
This posting was originally published August 7, 2011. I've split my writing into different blogs: Opinion, The Leukemia Chronicles, and other Freelance Writing.