A Matter Of Time

There is an old Arab proverb: "Man fears time, but time fears the pyramids." Personally, I don't think either of us has anything to be afraid of. Time always wins. The pyramids are shrinking and will one day be gone without a trace. It just takes time. As for man? I guess I'd be more fearful of time coming to a stop than I would of it marching on past that "moment." What moment? Well, it might have happened when someone placed the last stone on a pyramid or the last stitch in the fabric of a biplane. It was the moment we actually believed we had reached the apex of an endeavor. 

Fortunately, time does pass, evolution creeps onward and new ideas make the old ones obsolete. Without that forward movement,we might still be building pyramids and plying the skies in biplanes. But just imagine how the guy in this biplane must have felt as he cruised past the great pyramids of Giza. He'd reached the apex. He was on top of the world ~ or so he thought. Everything goes obsolete and comes to an end ~ whether it's the the plains of Giza, the planes of modern aviation or just plain old people. They'll all vanish. It's just a matter of time.
There were days in life when I wished it could go on forever. Everything. But somehow the passage of time brings an awakening; an insight heretofore unavailable. Just as we may have to pick our way through miles of rock to reach the gold; we might have to pick our way through many years to reach the understanding that nothing lasts forever, nor should it.

But there is one thing that, for me, remains timeless. That would be my love of all things aviation. It seems to have been with me forever, but when did it begin? I don't think I could turn my clock back far enough to find out. It was long before I would call myself a pilot or an air traffic controller. It was many years before I'd reached the first of several dead-ends in my life. Perhaps you can recall that day when your sky got a lot bigger and the world got a little smaller. Although I can't remember when it began for me, I do remember when it really took off. . .
I finally landed that FAA controller job I'd been waiting for. Everything was coming together! I could feel it ~ especially after the long years when everything seemed to be coming apart. These were the high times of forward momentum, fueled by surging self-confidence and optimism. I was gaining speed, checking off my career goals and only looking back to marvel at the distance I'd covered. How naive I was. As time passed, I should have been savvy enough to be looking out for those who were running up behind me with swords, scimitars or who knows; maybe even shish kabob skewers. But all that turmoil and treachery wouldn't catch up with me till much later. In the beginning though, it was all about air traffic control and the people I knew who made it happen. We had common goals, common adversaries and were so close that you couldn't have held a dollar bill between us.

I was lucky to have worked with the best there were ~ in every sense of the word. One of the key parts of the job was the teamwork it required. As anyone who's worked at it knows, air traffic control (ATC) can't be done alone. It's not a solo venture. The most successful shifts were the ones where you went home shaking your head and thinking about the controllers who helped get you through it. If, on the other hand, you headed home feeling like you personally just knocked one into the bleachers, you may have actually struck out. I don't know but I hope today's ATC game is still played that way.

A superior shift was made of many individual successes that, when added up, amounted to an illusion of effortlessness. It took an artist who also knew the magic and could do the trick. For example; tweaking airspeeds and issuing a few artful vectors to fit an extra aircraft into the approach sequence, where there didn't really seem to be enough room, could take pressure off the holding patterns. A center controller who accepted early handoffs so the departures didn't have to stop climbing was ultimately helping the tower keep the departure queue moving. The Local Controller who didn't complain about a tight arrival interval and, in fact, got the departures out in spite of it made for happy approach controllers. If you could just watch such things, without ever hearing the radio transmissions or interphone calls necessary to make it work, you might think it was easy. But this wasn't the "pulling rabbits out of hats" kind of trick.

Watching the controllers who could do the magic was always a treat. The only thing better was learning how to do it myself.

Of course there were also times of defeat and discouragement but we all have them, don't we? Anyway, I was cocksure those times wouldn't last and, somehow, they never did. Besides, there were usually more things to learn from a single setback than there was from a single success. I guess I always tended to analyze my failures more closely than I did my victories. As an air traffic controller, it kept me fairly busy. Still, life on the boards challenged, sustained and satisfied me for many years. Then, one day, I must have experienced that "moment" referred to earlier. I felt an urgency, like I was late for an important appointment. I needed to move on ~ but where to? Was I really embarking on a career path or was this more like pinball, where I'd simply bounce and bump around until someone yelled "Tilt!" and the sign said "Game Over?" Only time would tell.

I have to say though; moving on in this material world took me, far too quickly, through many situations where I should have lingered longer and enjoyed more. At the time, I guess I didn't want to be stuck there forever. One place I should have stayed at least a little longer was among the controller workforce. I still remember what Pete, our Area Manager, said when I told him I was thinking of bidding on a staff job. "Why the shit do you want to do that? You've already got the best job in the Agency!" He was right, of course. Later that day, he banished me to our most intricate radar sector to train our most argumentative developmental. Pete had a peculiar style. It was okay though. I needed a fresh headache and it actually helped me make up my mind about that staff job.

Whenever I reflect on my days of working traffic, even with those inherent headaches, it still gives me a good feeling. I'd run out of adjectives before I could adequately describe it. But I moved on because it was time and there was an opportunity. You know what they say; "Time waits for no man?" Well I can tell you now that opportunity is far less patient.

Moving on, I found that staff and Management work wasn't nearly as gratifying as any of those "superior" shifts I completed as a controller. So, what else is new? Like I said earlier, the passage of time brings an awakening. The facts were that a controller could get something pivotal, propitious or profitable done in moments. Instant gratification. Meanwhile, over in the gladiator arena euphemistically referred to as Management, self-actualization remained illusive. Whenever I finally got something significant accomplished, it could have taken weeks, months or even years. Oh, and this was when I became aware of those guys at my back with the swords and such. Again, I began thinking there were more important things to do elsewhere. I hoped there'd at least be a less duplicitous bunch of people. I was ready to move beyond another of those moments in time.
So anyway ~ life is good and yours should last as long as you want it to. But one of many things I learned is that life, spacious and special as it is, should not go on without end. Immortality is a fool's dream. The ceaseless cycle of good times and bad taught me that immortality would simply mean being stuck here forever. Talk about a fate worse than death. Fortunately, we'll all move on one day. At the moment, I'm far from ready. But it's just a matter of time.

© NLA Factor, 2012