Learning to Die/Fly

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Nearly four years ago, I was working as a chaplain at JPS Hospital in Fort Worth. The downtown level one trauma center was often a wild place to be. On a relatively sleepy Sunday afternoon, we got word that an airplane crash victim from Roanoke was being flown in. I’ll never forget what he looked liked when he arrived. I was terrified. I’d never seen a human body look like that before. It was as if someone had crushed him and blown him back up as big as they possibly could him. Pushing against my fear, I moved closer. I’d been on the job for a few weeks. As I searched for life in his eyes, the man looked at me and said, “I’m ok.”




Except for the short time at the hospital, I never knew Charlie Yates in life. I only knew him in death. Later, I found out that Yates was a decorated pilot and beloved man. Before anyone told me, I knew that he was a man of deep faith. I could feel it. I saw his faith sustain him in those final moments. While it has been a long time since I worked at JPS, Charlie Yates has stuck with me.


For many years, I’ve been terrified to fly. I didn’t even know that it was possible for a human body to look like that. I tried unsuccessfully to get those images out of my mind. The more I’ve learned about Yates, the more I’ve realized that his faith pushed him to face his fear. Last week, I guess I decided I decided to do just that.


Down in Addison, I climbed into a light-sport aircraft for a lesson. I was terrified. As we took off, the plane bounced all over the damn sky. I just knew a wing was about to fall off at any moment. The sweat from my palms accumulated. When we finally arrived at a comfortable cruising altitude, my instructor asked me, “Do you feel comfortable yet?” I replied, “I think it’s going to be much longer than the duration of this lesson before my asshole unclenches again.” Later, I stepped out in faith and took the controls. While flying over North Dallas, I knew I’d conquered my fear.




After a harrowing ride down, I finally got back on the ground. Exhilarated, I thought about Charlie Yates. Though I never really knew him, I had a feeling he was there cheering me on.


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