Sneak Peek of

FROM PLAIN TO PLANE

 

. . . Four decades of flying have taken me to places big and small: Beijing, Kuwait, Dubai, Rome, Tokyo, Frankfurt, Sao Paulo, London, Paris; Cedar Rapids, Boise, and Presque Isle—all so far from where I began and so profoundly at odds with my upbringing. 

 

I was raised to be a wife and a mother. Raised to be silent, submissive, obedient. To know a woman’s place in a man’s world. And yet, here I sit, part of the five percent of airline pilots who are women, and an even smaller number who are captains. Though I will become a wife and mother, and they will define me to an extent, I won’t be defined only by my relationship to others as my female ancestors were. Yes, I am a woman in a man’s world, but the lies that once bound me no longer rule my life. 

 

From a high altitude, the landscape stretches before me to the horizon, and it is obvious how distant locales, histories, and characters are related, all interwoven like some grand, colorful, ongoing tapestry in the larger story of life. As a child, walking a country lane or a farm field, I was able to witness up close the patches of the quilt and the small stitches that held it all together, the tree-lined dirt roads, the gentle mound of a hill that blocked the horizon, all forcing me to see the details by the side of the road. I was constantly drawn to the magic underfoot, to the flowers I knew by name that became cherished friends, to the pebbles that seemed to look like all the others but were unique and beautiful, to the cool feel of newly plowed earth squeezing deliciously through my toes, to the astringent smell of walnuts that had fallen from a tree and beckoned me to crack open their bright green outer shell, then urged me to go beyond the sticky black interior that stained my fingers for days to find its treasure. I can still smell the steaming cow patties in a nearby pasture, see playful tadpoles skittering beneath the water’s surface, inches away and yet somehow a world away. There, in the closeness of nature, I felt the emotions of each season: the giddy joy of spring as the grass became an exuberant green and the teacher taped cheerful cutouts of Peter Cottontail and yellow chicks to the windows; the intoxication of summer with its bouquet of fragrances, vivid colors, and soulful breezes; the subtle sadness of fall as the colors intensified and then dropped to the ground in sodden masses, surrendering to rain and relentless gray skies; the bleakness of winter, its beauty revealed in the stark bones of shrubs and dry-stone walls. And because I noticed these details, because I felt them, each one became a part of who I was.

 

I’d never wanted to leave that bucolic life of bare feet on a country dirt road, the chorus of birds in the meadow, or swinging on a rope above the creek and jumping off at the highest moment in exultation. I’d never dreamed of being anywhere but there. I certainly never imagined being here in this place or this job. And yet sometimes I still shudder thinking how narrowly I escaped that life. What might have been if it hadn’t been for my father? For there is no logical route from that time and place to this moment and this place. 

 

Sometimes, though, like now, I wonder if I’m delusional. Did I merely imagine the events that catapulted me out of one world and into another? Self-doubt, my one constant, had migrated with me between those two worlds. Just because I had attained this lofty position didn’t mean the ghosts of the past had gone away.

. . .

I will tell you about the public record and our family’s private reality, but deeper than that was another story. My most cherished one. A narrative about fate and destiny quietly recorded by the turning points of life. That story is about the path toward liberation. Accompanying me on some of the darkest passages and most triumphant moments were my faithful companions and divine Guides. 

. . .

Specific past events and how I remembered them created a framework for my life—the memories became a container that raised questions about and agitated the truth hidden beneath them. Some questions stood out clearly, demanding a decision; in those cases, a choice was made, a path chosen, and life was forever altered. Those crossroads I remember vividly. Other memories laid down markers for the future, as if an agitation that would one day ask to be resolved, healed, or relinquished. 

I see the soul itself as a dissident. It’s always pressing for the truth and questing for a greater understanding of oneself and the larger world around us. The events of life and the memories that stand out in neon lights beckon for some distortion to be confronted, some illusion to be pierced, some truth to be embraced. 

 

For me, it was a quest to gather up those memories like a thousand shards and glue them back together to reveal what the original container looked like. Once reassembled, the vessel—being me—carried the scars of that shattering. It is difficult to predict whether a shattered vessel will be left weaker, or if, like broken bones knitted together, it will become stronger.

 

I believe one’s memories and the triggering events of life that differ so greatly among individuals vary precisely because behind those events are where your truths are hidden, where your path lies. Even painful truths, if they are genuine, lead to healing, freedom, and power. It is in this noble struggle that the pilgrimage to one’s destiny is walked. The agitation is the compass. True north lies in one’s inner mysteries and reveals one’s spiritual DNA. It unfolds and catalyzes the blooming of your Gift.

 

All suffering is bearable if it is seen as part of a story.

—Isak Dinesen

 

My father told his story extensively for nearly five decades without interruption. Each of my brothers and sisters and my mother have their own untold stories of the tumultuous time that this book illustrates, of the narrative that shaped their lives. I have tried to balance speaking about what I witnessed without telling their stories, as they are not mine to tell. 

 

Instead, I am telling my story, the one that has arisen from what I witnessed and how that drove my choices. This is the narrative that shaped my life, made it bearable, and radically transformed my trajectory.

. . .

To everything there is a season, 

and a time to every purpose under the heaven: 

A time to keep silence, and a time to speak.

—Ecclesiastes 3:1–8 

 

It is time to speak. 

Copyright © Patty Bear, 2021

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